At first, I honestly had no idea how to answer a question with so many possibilities. Quirky weirdo that I am, I’m sure the list is endless. Upon careful reflection, however, I’ve come up with a definite front-runner:
I stole a chunk of hair from my father’s embalmed body.
Yes, you read that correctly. Perhaps a little back-story would help?
I remember the first conversation I had with my father about what he wanted when he died. I was young, still in elementary school, and barely starting to grasp the concept of what it really means to “die.” I imagine most children reach that awareness, and consequently begin to worry about their parents – what if mom and dad die? What will happen to them? What will happen to me if they die? What will happen to me when I die? And so on.
I remember the finality of death being more frightening than death itself. I still feel that way. At 32 years old, I can truthfully say that I’m not afraid of dying – I’m afraid of dying before I get to experience everything wonderful and magical that life has in store for me. I’m afraid of dying with regrets.
That first conversation I had with my dad took place over dinner, and I can still see the warm glow of the hanging light above our table bringing out the rosiness in his cheeks. I learned that it was my father’s wish to be cremated, and to have his ashes scattered around my childhood home. I’ve been afraid of fire for as long as I can remember, so the thought of a body being incinerated in flames was a bit disturbing to me as a little girl. But it’s what he wanted. No empty body in a box in the ground, just ashes and memories being set free.
If we’re lucky, we find a corner of the world where we just “fit.” Being in this place brings us joy, and our souls feel at ease. Garrett County was that place for my dad; and he deserved to be returned home, to the place he loved most, after fighting such a brutal battle for so many years. The darkness I feel towards his wishes not being honored is something I’m still working though.
Grief came much later; the tears I cried at his funeral were mostly from shock and anger. One of my oldest friends, Kristen, led me to the front of the church when it was time to close the casket. She stood beside me, holding my hand as I looked for the last time upon his cold, lifeless corpse. I remember whispering to her, “This is so wrong… This isn’t what he wanted.”
In her timeless grace, Kristen replied, “I know. But this is not your father, and he is not here to see this. He’s home now, with God.”
And she was right. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to tell her just how much I needed her there beside me, or how much I needed to hear her say those words. My constant, lifelong, faithful friend.
Still, when no one was looking, I cut off a chunk of his hair. It wasn’t the soft, fine brown hair he had when he was alive, that always smelled like the outdoors. It was wispy, grey… dead. But it was still his hair.
About a year and a half later, my Godparents took my mother and I on a boat ride. That small piece of my dad was scattered on Deep Creek Lake, at twilight. It wasn’t our former home, but it was a place he deeply loved. A place I loved, where I used to watch my dad water ski like a pro. In the stillness, on that evening, there was peace.
Is stealing hair from a dead body a bit strange and morbid? Maybe so. Do I care? Hell no. I’d even say that I’m a little proud. Embrace the weird. Embrace the mess. Embrace life. It’s here and gone, and in the end we are ashes and memories, flying free.