Talking about death with my dad


Yesterday was my father’s birthday. I called him in the morning. Early calls to my dad remain a quiet joy in my life that I too often forget or forsake in my varieties of busyness. He has always been a morning person and there is something about the early hours that feels crisp and fresh-brained. I like thinking aloud with him while the world is rousing.

He turned 71 and aside from of us reviewing our lives for each other as of late, we also spent some time talking about death planning. He and my mom have been gradually getting their affairs in order, writing down what they want, listing bank accounts and passwords for one another, etc. My mother has grown a recent affinity for green burial and there is a burial site and sanctuary near their home in North Carolina where she wants to be buried. My father is still on the fence. He leans toward cremation and for a while I always thought that was mostly because he wanted the least amount of effort put into post death matters. That is how I remember him presenting it in the past. But in the typical character of my father, he has put much more thought into his preference for cremation. How he described it stayed with me the rest of the day, made me contemplate the nature of “place.”

He said that he struggles with the idea of his body being buried because there then remains a location associated with him. What he always valued about cremation was having no location. “I know I will live in people’s memories,” he said, “and that is what matters to me.” 

There are so many angles to any reflection on death, either the pragmatics or the existential questions. There is so much in these contemplations and conversations that reflect how we view our place in life and the way we move and abide as humans. These reflections help us feel the textures of our choices, help us find ourselves in our own bodies and life, to wake up there. Here.

And having these conversations with each other, with the people we love, offers mutual benefit. I left the conversation thinking about location and memory, the nature and meaning of both for me in this moment. I felt grateful for my dad, for hearing his thoughts and views and these times of connecting with him. It hasn't always been easy to connect with him. Our present ease and openness is something we both grew into. I also felt acutely aware that the opportunity to talk in the morning with him will have an end date. Death comes without warning for everyone. That's fact. I appreciate the simple love felt and expressed in ordinary moments choosing to speak openly and honestly about all the parts of life.