It was about a week ago today that we received the sad news of the passing of my mother’s best friend. I’ve been writing a lot about life and death since then because it’s hard not to be influenced by painfully tragic events.
Once the shock of sudden loss begins to evolve into logistical territory — that’s when reality hits with surprisingly harsh blows.
My inconsolable mother has maintained communication with the only child of the woman who was like a real aunt to my brothers and I. We try to be respectfully considerate — but it’s challenging to know exactly what to say or do when dealing with someone who has suffered the very worst that life has to offer.
So — far we’ve been briefed with sketches of immediate plans. It has been confirmed that after a memorial service here in the States — scheduled for later this month — the family will take the body back to their village in the Eastern region of Nigeria for burial.
As my mother tearfully shared what the son of her dearly departed friend had told her — I was immediately thrown into the scenario of mentally calculating costs and wondering how (as an only child) he was going to be able to afford what was coming.
I’ve been having these conversations with girlfriends — who like me — are feeling the wear and tear of accumulated years — as evident on certain body parts and the entire template of our aging parents who are supposed to die before we do.
But— to be honest — the gross task of expanding your to-do list to feature all the items that must be checked in the evident that your mother or father drop dead unannounced or with enough warning — is morbidly necessary — but not appreciated.
And yet it must be done.
When I do the basic arithmetic by taking in the hospital costs which — if you include chemotherapy treatments — tends to be astronomical — and then factor in the funeral home expenses — and then the fee for shipping a dead relative back to your home country — the total amount is astoundingly high.
You have to be ready to produce thousands and thousands of dollars — and muddle through endless paperwork — while also enduring your fragile disposition.
An eight-week session of chemotherapy can cost more than $30,000 (depending on the diagnosis) and when that doesn’t work — hospice care can be up to $650 per day. When death happens you could be looking at up to $300 a day to keep the body at a funeral home — and that doesn’t include the prior costs to prepare the body. And when you’re finally ready for the final leg of the journey — you will have to fork out between $5,000-$8500 if you intend to ship the body overseas.
As a freelance writer — who is old enough (almost middle-aged) to not be intimidated by those initial numbers since I’ve lived long enough to be able to shoulder the responsibility without breaking a sweat — I have to admit that if shit were to hit the fan — I would be paralyzed with not only grief — but the shame and sorrow of not being able to adequately rise to the occasion.
When my childhood friends speak about life insurances and all the other stuff that need to be ironed out in a timely fashion and with high level of efficiency — I immediately understand why they were reluctant to risk it all in the name of passion and artistry.
The reason why they kept those hideously boring jobs in HR and all the other departments that make me itch was to ensure that the future would be kind to them and their loved ones.
When you’re young — life seems like this endless stretch of adventure that isn’t supposed to ever end. Then when you get older and you sense that all that indulging may have to be curbed — you’re encouraged to ignore the pangs of stability and make that leap anyway.
You only live once — right?
Well — as it turns out — making the wrong decisions can royally fuck up any hopes you have for exiting this world with your dignity intact. Not to mention being able to bless the ones you love with the right to be buried how and where they desire.
As it stands now — I’m woefully incapable of comfortably combining my resources with that of my siblings and whatever my parents leave behind — in the event that we are faced with the task of burying either our mom or dad.
I’m also not sure what the fuck will happen if I’m diagnosed with a serious disease like ovarian cancer. There’s no way I would be able to afford treatment. And so — it’s like I would pray for a poor diagnosis so that my death would happen almost immediately — and I could at least leave enough money behind to cover my cremation. I also wouldn’t expect to be shipped back to Nigeria — and would opt to have my ashes set free somewhere over the Atlantic ocean.
Even thinking about it is unbearably depressing — but there’s no way to escape what my mates are currently saddled with because life doesn’t ask first before it pummels you with the load that’s almost always to heavy to bear.
I also can’t deny that I have been immensely lucky that my both my parents have have been blessed with excellent health. And that realization pressures me into making good use of the time we have left.
There are questions that need to be asked and answers that need to be recorded. I have to stop lamenting about my $1367 emergency room bill and start preparing for the avalanche of costs that are in the cue — waiting to be activated.
Death is a difficult transformative process that can be even more cumbersome if your to-do list is scanty or empty. The time has come for me to pay dearly for embodying the “gypsy” lifestyle for far too long.
I have to start living to die — which is essentially what we’re all doing — except this time — it’s for real.