August 13, 2009 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: At odds, last wishes pose dilemma

By The Spokesman-Review
 

I’m going back home to Florida in a few days to visit friends and family, and I know the dilemma will be upon me again. I know because it’s already beginning to bubble up in my consciousness – what to do about my parents.

I hope I honored them appropriately while they were alive, but one unfinished or unresolved matter makes me wonder if I’ve done the best I could after their deaths. Most of the time the matter sits at the back of my brain, but I know that when I go to the cemetery in Miami, where my father was buried in 1971, there it will be again, front and center.

My father just loved Florida, no more so than when he was out on the water. He never wanted to move from there, even with my mother’s urging to come to Spokane once it became clear that my husband and I were going to make our stand here. I can still recall his joy when I was in high school and we’d go fishing at the south end of Biscayne Bay where it opens out into the Atlantic. If it got too hot, we’d slip into the water to cool off. Occasionally a dolphin would swim by or a pelican would swoop low over the water. That was my father’s idea of heaven.

So when he died, we buried him in the city he loved, in a plot my mother selected next to some shrubbery and a water feature. She thought it was perfect for him. The trouble was, the adjoining plots, though unoccupied, were owned by other people. I think my mother believed she would be able to approach one of the owners and purchase one of the plots for herself.

But as it turned out, she did move to Spokane, and one of the first things she did was buy two spaces at Spokane Memorial Gardens with the intention of moving my father here. Neither of us had any qualms about moving him (I’m sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to say “his remains”), so that wasn’t an issue.

What was an issue was that she could never bring herself to do it. She kept envisioning him laid to rest at that lovely site, and so she wavered. Yet she wanted to lie next to him when she died, and her logic was that since I, her only child, lived here, this is where they should be. To the best of my knowledge, my father had never expressed any opinion about where he wanted to be buried, at least to me.

Finally, my mother told me to do whatever I thought best after she died. Thanks, Mom.

When she died in 1987, she was buried in Spokane, as she wanted, and I decided to leave each of them where they were originally interred.

I don’t visit the cemetery in Miami very often, but when I was there a few years ago, it had changed a lot. Gone were the shrubs. Gone was the little pond. My father’s grave is now in the middle of a big open field where the grass – always hard to maintain in the sandy soil of Miami – is kind of patchy and parched. This is no longer the idyllic location my mother cherished.

When I came home from that trip, I inquired of a friend in the funerary business about what it would take to move my father. It was a whole lot of money. But what gave me pause, beyond that, was a caution about some unsavory things that can take place in the process. I’m not casting aspersions on an entire industry, but I was advised by a credible representative that if I was going to do this, I should go and personally supervise. That was not an appealing prospect.

It is so much more important to care for and be respectful of parents while they are still living. But it would be nice to be able to see to their final wishes, too, even when they’re at odds. And there’s something about being a daughter, or at least about being this daughter, that makes me want to be able to do that one last thing for them.

My father loved Florida. My mother wanted to be buried with him, but she wanted to be buried near where her daughter lived.

So, there’s the dilemma, probably unsolvable. And I’m OK with it most of the time, except when I go back home to visit friends and family, and I go to the cemetery and stand by my father’s headstone – out in the open field where the little pond used to be.


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