Rooting around in my home office last week, I came across a receipt, stuffed in a basket with expired credit cards, hardened erasers, rejected photos, and other detritus. I was making one of my periodic, half-hearted attempts to straighten up and toss some of the stuff that seems to mushroom in there. Because it was a credit card receipt I unfolded it to look at it, assuming I’d kept it for a reason.
My heart gave a jolt as I read “All Souls Mortuary” at the top—it was the receipt for my mother’s cremation. She’ll be gone two years next week. Isn’t it a convenient world, when you can pay by credit card for these services? How far off can it be until we’re able to drive through? “You want an urn with that? The total will be $2,500. Pull up to the window.”
I stood there for a minute, recalling that alien, almost other-worldly day when I sat in the hushed conference room at the mortuary with my brother and my dear friend Christine, arranging for the simple cremation my mother had requested. She had been ill for more than three years so her death was expected, but still hit me with an ambushing force that I’ve yet to recover from.
Then I noticed the bottom of the receipt. There was the standard, cheery sign-off: “Thank You. Please Come Again.” I hadn’t seen that two years ago in my befogged state. My mother, who had a sly sense of humor, would have laughed richly at the dark joke. My 10-year-old son has evidently inherited his grandmother’s black humor gene—he was in my office at the time, reluctantly working on a report for school, another of the assignments he terms “filler” and scarcely deigns to complete.
I showed him the receipt and the breezy tag line at the bottom. He rolled his eyes. “‘Yes, we hope five more of your relatives die soon’” he said sarcastically. “‘Please come again to choose several additional crushed-velvet-lined caskets.’” I laughed in spite of myself, his smart-aleckyness somehow consoling.
As the two-year anniversary of my mother’s death nears, I’ve had this stunned feeling. I’m shocked by how much I still miss her, how imminent her last days appear, and by the recurrent heaviness in my chest. It’s not that I expected to be past the sense of loss by now; I knew that life would never be the same without her. But I couldn’t have anticipated how large her absence would be.
In my mother’s eulogy I said we would think of her every time we heard a really good joke: she loved to laugh and always found something funny about even the grimmest situation. Maybe her spirit prompted me to unearth that receipt and consider the absurdity of inviting mortuary customers for return visits. Thank you, Mom. Please Come Again.