We were driving past a cemetery when my eight-year-old asked, “Why are some stones big and fancy and others tiny?” I told her that some people were important, or rich, or maybe their families really missed them and wanted everyone to know it. “And by the way,” I said, seizing the moment, “when I die I don’t want any kind of headstone at all. I just want a big rock, so people can come and sit and think about me.” It’s true. I’ve felt that way ever since I visited Stockholm and saw the grave of Olof Palme, the Swedish prime minister who was assassinated. It’s marked by a giant, natural-looking boulder, with just his signature on it. I’m very comfortable with the idea of returning to the earth, and love the thought of being commemorated by something so … unvarnished. “You can just paint ‘Mom’ on it,” I told her.
She thought about this. “Yeah, maybe Jordan and I can spray paint it,” she said. I chuckled, but I understood where she was going: she was envisioning some key bonding time with her older brother, who’s unfailingly mean to her unless he needs a fourth for an Airsoft gun war, or someone to hold the rope while he rappels down a tree. She knew how much he’d delight in a fresh, new can of spray paint, even if his mother was newly dead. “Can we paint it green?” she asked. I was slightly alarmed by her enthusiasm; clearly she was imagining a fun craft project with smocks. “No! That defeats the purpose of having a plain old rock.” She relented. “OK, maybe just black letters that say, ‘RIP Mom.'” Long pause. “But you’ll be dead so you won’t know!” True, I told her; you can do whatever you want. I didn’t mention the MP3 file I created on our computer that helpfully lists the songs I want played at my funeral–including “525,600 Minutes” from the musical Rent, which I am now reconsidering because it’s become such a cliche that I recently heard a bunch of 13-year-olds singing it at a bar mitzvah.
I’m not dying any more than any healthy, middle-aged person is, and I don’t mean to be morbid or alarm my daughter. She quickly pointed out, after I nixed the green spray paint plan, that she wouldn’t need to worry about it “for a long, long time.” Still, I don’t see any harm in giving her early warning of the inevitable. I believe in confronting difficult subjects head on, in digestible nuggets and whenever they arise organically. But mostly I’m just trying to increase the likelihood that I’ll actually get my way.