Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

Do you ever get lonely when you’re dead?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018
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Do you ever get lonely when you’re dead?


Single plot or double plot? It had never even occurred to me that cemetery plots are sold as singles, or as doubles. Luckily, Will’s cousin arrived at the cemetery office before me and made that decision without hesitation or asking me my opinion on the matter. Will’s cousin Reva is probably one of the most confident and assertive women I have ever met. Will looked up to her, she was really more sister, than cousin. They could talk about politics and social issues in a nuanced way that I barely understood at the time. Will looked to her and her husband for advice, be it about big life decision or fashion tips. And it was not uncommon for Will to start a sentence or remark with, “Well, Reva says . . .” So, before Will died, I had always felt a little bit intimidated by Reva and the energy and brain power that she brought into a room. But with Will gone and Reva there with me, with her quick instincts and deep understanding of both life and death, I felt comfortable and reassured by her presence. Her input and advice made all the choices seem manageable and easier and I immediately understood why Will had so much trust and confidence in her.

Burying Will was the first time I was in charge of burying anyone, and I had no clue how it all worked. It was only a few days earlier that Will’s mom had told me that she wanted Will to stay in Chicago with me. She said even though we weren’t married I was his wife in her eyes and I should make all the decisions about his funeral and burial. I knew this was an important job and an honor to be given, but I had no real idea what I was getting myself into. And as I walked into the cemetery office for the first time, I never would have guessed that burying Will would have anything to do with the eventual burying of me.

But that was the first thing Reva said as I sat down. She and the cemetery saleswoman had discussed it, and they had decided that Will would be buried in a single plot. Thankfully, in true Reva style, she just clearly outlined the facts and boldly stated the decision that had been made. I was 31 years old and I still had my whole life ahead of me. She knew I wanted to get married and have kids and she said I should have the option to be buried with my potential future partner who I may have kids with. She reminded me that everyone knew I loved Will, but that I was still young. Will and everyone else would want me to move forward and eventually find another partner to share my life with. And being saved from having to answer this question of single or double plot took a huge burden off of me while figuring out how to grieve. Reva probably realized that I would not know what to do with such a question, so she took charge and made the decision on my behalf. Will was my person when he was alive, and we had wanted to live our lives together. But at this point, when my adult life had barely even started, I would not be making any decisions about my burial plot just because Will had died so young. Reva made it clear that I was too young to even consider a double plot and I’m lucky to have been spared the stress of making this decision.

From the cemetery office we walked to a golf cart and drove around to view plots. Choosing the cemetery was easy, Graceland, where the who’s who of Chicago are laid to rest. Will was a Chicago aficionado and political science buff, to be resting among the other broad shoulders of our city seemed fitting. So as we wound through the beautiful grounds of the cemetery, the saleswoman explained information about price ranges, again, Reva took the lead and boldly stated that Will would want to be buried in the cheap seats. We all laughed, and it almost felt like Will was with us. Will loved dark humor and well timed, though somewhat inappropriate jokes. And the more time I spent with Reva, the more I saw how much of her was in Will. They both have a way to lighten any awkward moment with a joke that was honest and right on point. I started to wonder if this may have been a family trait. Reva and I went on to choose caskets and plan a ceremony that suited Will perfectly.  Our musician friends stood graveside playing bluegrass “walk-up” music while pall bearers carried Will’s from the hearse. Reva’s husband acted as our MC, Reva shared stories of Will from his childhood and early years in Chicago, I read a letter I wrote to Will in the days after his death, and a close friend of ours gave a deeply moving Eulogy. There was a party at our neighborhood bar after we filled in the grave, a headstone was laid the following spring, and about a year later, Will’s colleagues at UIC dedicated a bike rack and memorial plaque to Will. And then, life went on.

So today, Will is still resting in Graceland, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t visit him much. I haven’t gotten used to going to the cemetery yet and I struggle to feel connected to him while I’m there. And sometimes I worry about him laying in that cemetery all alone. Just recently, while visiting with his mom and uncle this past Christmas, we started to talk about end of life planning for them. This past fall, a very close friend of theirs, basically their third musketeer in their South Carolina trio, passed away. This led Will’s mom and uncle to start putting more thought and energy into planning their final resting places. And it was during these conversations that I realized that Will still needed his mom. It was a great gift that Dot gave to me, letting me plan everything and bury Will close to me. But Will was a momma’s boy, or as Dot would say, she and him were as thick as thieves. Will had no siblings and Will’s dad died when he was just a teenager. They had grandparents and kin nearby, but Will and his mom were like this little team of two.

I realized then, that if we were going to discuss end of life planning, we needed to discuss how to bring some of Dot up to Chicago to be with Will. I was surprised at how easy and positive it was to have this conversation with Dot and her brother Tom. I think we all knew that Will would need and want his mom to be with him. The phone call ended in a sort of excitement, with Dot promising to call their local mortuary to ask about logistics and all the details involved. Luckily, Dot wants to be cremated, so we have planned to share her between Will in Chicago and a plot with her brother Tom in South Carolina, who is part of Dot’s current team of two. And sitting here today, part of me wonders if this is silly, this idea that his body is alone or that his spirit is lonely. That a single plot is not enough, but another part of me knows that it does matter. That even in death, we need our people with us. No one should ever have to be alone, even when they’re dead.

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