I picked out a casket like I would shop for any other large purchase. I went into it thinking I wanted a rich wood casket. Unfortunately, caskets are ridiculously expensive. The cheapest wood option was over almost four thousand and was not what I would call “rich”-looking. The cheapest casket of all was just under a grand and was literally a dark black metal box. It looked like an ugly safe. The funeral director patiently walked me through the catalog so that I could view the metal choices in between those two price points. The online system had a terrible user interface and all I could think was how I could help them fix this so that grieving families didn’t have to suffer through the horrible waiting times during all the clicks it took to view each option. We clicked (and clicked and clicked) through the slate grey and cheesy blue options for almost an hour. I didn't cry. I didn't waver. I shopped. I planned. I managed the situation as I would handle any professional project. I settled on a warm tan casket that had a wooden feel at nowhere near the price and moved on to choose the flowers, the programs, and the guest book. After I confirmed everything with my siblings, the funeral director brought in the paperwork so I could sign on the dotted line.
The problem with signing things is that you have to enter the date. I can never remember the date. Even if I've written it a gajillion times that day, even if I've been monitoring my calendar like crazy - I can never remember the date when it comes time to sign a form. This time, though, it flowed out without me thinking.
My mom's birthday.
I wrote it without thinking. I wrote it knowing the significance, but without it hitting me until I filled in the year.
Over the past several months, I had become so used to filling in my mom's birth date, that I couldn't write 2/17 without filling in her birth year. I looked down at the papers and realized my mistake. My chest tightened and for just a second I wondered if I could take another breath. The air felt like tar seeping and blocking my lungs from filling. I had just purchased my mom's casket on what would have been her 72nd birthday.
I scratched out 1943 and wrote in 2015, wondering briefly if the blurred wet ink would be a problem. The funeral director must have thought I was having trouble with the date because he helpfully chimed in, "It's the 17th."
I looked up at him through tears for the first time and made a horrible imitation of a real smile.