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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Another Way

By Maureen Browning

It was very cold in North Dakota in late October of 1956, the day my aunt Angie died. My uncle Harold was at work and my cousin Frankie was at school. Angie, who was in her early forties and home alone, suffered a severe asthma attack and within minutes. Died on the living room floor.

The saddest part, other than her death itself, was that when she collapsed, she fell face down over the open grated furnace vent. I was told that when she was found, her face was badly burned from the heat coming up through the grate from the coal burning furnace in the basement.

Angie was my dad's sister. Her funeral was scheduled for a few days later and burial would be in the spring after the ground thawed.

I was almost 15 then, about to attend a funeral for the very first time in my life. In the hour ride from our home to the church, I had a lot of time to think but I had no idea what to expect.

I had never seen the body of a dead person. I knew that Angie would be prepared with make-up and dressed in her finest clothing before she was placed in her casket.

When we arrived for Angie's funeral and entered the church, I immediately noticed her open casket at the front near the altar. I distinctly remember how much I dreaded the idea of seeing Angie that day, especially since I knew her face had been so badly burned. I wanted to remember her as she was the last time I had seen her.

Angie was a remarkably good-natured person with an especially bubbly personality. She and my uncle must have loved each other a lot because I can remember them holding hands almost every time they sat beside each other.

Angie and I shared our maiden name of McGuire and we also shared the asthmatic condition. Knowing how she died, I could not stop thinking about how she must have struggled for air and how frightening it must have been.

As we made our way to the front of the church, I anxiously whispered to my mother my sudden feeling of not wanting to walk by Angie's casket. She told me that I had to follow her but that I didn't have to look at Angie.

As we approached the casket, I made a split second decision to look at her anyway. Her eyes were closed and other than that, I could barely see any details of her face because a very light pink gauze fabric had been placed over the open area of her casket. Heavy makeup and the pink fabric had been used to disguise her badly burned face.

I felt a wave of relief after moving past her but was consumed with a deep sense of sadness for my uncle and cousin who would miss her terribly.

On the ride home, I wondered about Angie's burial in the spring. I knew that I didn't want to go. A few days later, I talked to my mother about it. She told me the decision whether to go or stay home would be up to me.

I stayed home that spring day but by late that afternoon, I realized that I might as well have gone along with my parents because my vivid imagination of Angie's casket being lowered into the ground had played over and over in my mind all day.

By evening I knew that after my death, I did not want by body to be placed in a casket, viewed by family and then buried underground. Even though I was not aware of exactly why I felt so strongly about this at that particular time and had no idea of how and where I wanted my body to end up after my death, I just knew there had to be another way.

By 2010, I had found another way. In July of that year, I made legal arrangements to donate my body to a University Medical School for anatomical use, to be followed by cremation.

Upon my death, it will be my gift to science and to the education of the doctors of tomorrow.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Maureen, Good story and we welcome you! I, too, had a burned face story, a girlhood friend who as a child fell face-down on a heater grate that left a large L shaped scar. She overcame plenty in school.
I, too, had the experience of a first funeral and not wanting to see my loved one dead. I didn't.
You found a way to tell your version beautifully,and the ending makes your story special

Interesting how first funerals always stay in the mind of young people. I remember mine from the early 60's. Now things are so different in the funeral industry, but nothing has prepared my kids to have to say good-bye to someone they love.

My thanks to Janet Thompson and Beth for posting their comments regarding my story "Another Way".

Hope you'll write more. Your story took me places in memory I hadn't been for a long time.
I didn't attend my grandmother's funeral because I thought it would make it easier for Dad if he didn't have all we children to tend to. It wasn't until I was an adult that I went to the cemetery to find her resting place.

For at least 10 years, I had in place directions for an anatomical donation of my body to medical school. I felt it was a helpful thing to do--particularly because I had so many chronic illness, surgeries, etc.. Then last year, just a short time before my sister died, we found out that she was being rejected from that program due to her having had hepatitis at age 7 (almost 80 years ago.)I called them to find out if my having had C-Diff recently would eliminate me and sure enough it did. Not just them, but also the other one within the area. So, with the help of our local funeral society, I am planning to prepay my cremation costs for the simplest plan (in the vicinity of $1100). If you are signed up for same--a warning, they don't tell you, you have to ask.

Lyn Burnstine, Thank you for the very informative comments regarding anatomical donation. The med school where I made my donation suggested that I have a backup plan such as a prepaid cremation in the event that my body would not be acceptable at the time of my death. I have done so.

Herm...I thought I sent you a thank you for your comments yesterday, but it didn't go through. And I was please to read that you found your Grandmother's resting place.

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