There is a Buddhist quote: “we choose our own parents”. The teachings of Buddhism say we choose them (before we are born) to teach us the hardest lessons. Some of us choose old fashioned teachers of hard lessons. They teach by rote, not by encouragement or compassion. Perhaps this choice is down to ‘family karma’. I don’t know. I have not studied Buddhism in enough depth.
I was talking to my mother on the telephone the other day.
I have just made my will. I am in my 50’s. The golden age. I do not have much to leave behind: lots of wonderful memories. Who wants those? Some are tied up in material pieces of sentimentality collected along the way. Pictures, books, chairs, small jewels. My goal is to turn my writing into my legacy.
Along with my will I wrote a Letter of Wishes for my daughter, Caroline, suggesting how I would like things she does not want to keep to be offered to selected friends, ex-lovers, significant people in my life. Including some who faded away and settled for something more mainstream than I could offer. I trust my daughter to make wise decisions when the time comes. I fully accept these might include a bonfire…
Why do we have a need to be remembered? Why do I remember so much? So vividly? I can recall complete conversations, feelings, colours, sensations from aeons ago. I marvel at how other people let previously vibrant moments (with me!) fade into nothing. I used to think it was ‘wrong’ to bathe in memories. Now I secretly relish letting them in and marinading in a different period of my life. I love the richness of memories. Of going back and noticing things that I might not have noticed in real time when they were created. Most life lessons are learned in retrospect.
Back to my mum: So, I mentioned I had left this letter of wishes with a loose outline for how I would like my funeral to be. And that my daughter can take it with a pinch of salt if she wants. I have chosen music (to be played instead of prayers) and have asked Caroline to read something and/or to write something, maybe a poem, if she wishes.
My mother is a strong practical woman. She does not speak about emotions. They are a sign of ‘weakness’. And writing isn’t real. You cannot live in it. Eat it. Plant it in the garden. There was no literature in the house I grew up in. She was telling me about a visit to the local garden centre and how the frost had got the Camellias
We continued our parallel conversation. I told mum about the will and about a poem I had chosen if my daughter did not want to write one.
I mentioned I was preparing to publish my own first book of poems and short stories. Mum told me she was cooking herself a lamb chop with broccoli and mint sauce for lunch.
I tried again, hoping for connection, and gently asked what her own wishes are for her funeral — she is in her ninth decade and has not discussed it with me or my sister. I asked whether she would perhaps like me to write her a poem.
“No, I don’t want you to do that. It would be different if you could write proper poems. Ones that rhyme”
I said a little prayer to the Buddha within: “So, Mum, when should I dead-head my Camellia?”
(Afterwards, I read about King Midas and bought a can of gold spray paint and marinaded for a while)