The piece of paper, folded into letter-size thirds—with the words “Pammy, bring this to Brett Funeral Home on Wisconsin and 20th” in his handwriting—is sitting alone on the desk with no other papers around it. Just seeing his writing sends a sudden chill up my spine that causes my hand, with a will of its own, to reach toward the paper.
I have no reason to think this paper odd. Seven days ago, I received the call that Daddy had unexpectedly passed, and I flew from California to Milwaukee. I am now packing up the remaining items in his apartment. Two of my four sisters are with me, but right now they are elsewhere in the building, attending to phone calls and speaking with management. I have a box at my feet half full of his books, a few catalogs, and several photo albums. But as I grab the paper, bring it closer, and read it again, a sudden stabbing of fear, excitement, disbelief, and knowingness overtakes me all at once, and my mind flashes to the conversation I had last night with Pammy (my third-eldest sister, who was named executor of Dad’s estate).
“Dad didn’t want a funeral, just so you know—he just wanted a celebration,” Pammy had shared with me and Margie, my eldest sister.
“Okay, that makes sense. So then how or when do we get our urn with his ashes?” I innocently asked.
“What urn? What are you talking about?” Pam was suddenly stopped, like a deer in the middle of the road.
I replied, “Dad told me that he had it all worked out. He took me to breakfast at one of his favorite places, you know, what’s it called, like the “The Broken Yolk?”
“Yeah, he took me there, too . . . ” She’s tapping her foot, impatiently waiting for me to finish.
I continued, “He pointed to the red building across the street and said, ‘Sprytee, over there is where I’m going to be cremated someday. Pammy knows and has all the details.’ And he told me there would be six urns, one for each of us kids, and everything was all taken care of.”
“No. That’s not at ALL what he told me!” Pammy was visibly upset. “And I even have everything here written down, Spryte! Look for yourself, there is nothing about urns. He wanted to be cremated and his ashes buried at the Veterans Cemetery; and he wanted us to have a celebration during a Packer game and serve him up a martini with two olives! That’s it! He did not want a service, and there’s no request for urns, Spryte.” Her voice was rising, understandably. She had been the one—the only one of us kids—living close enough to go clean up the mess his bodily fluids had left on the kitchen floor where he died, and to start the whole process from autopsy to police investigation to dealing with the many conversations that are needed to close down a person’s life! And now, here she was, hearing something new to deal with—and not a small thing, as it pertained to how her father wanted to leave his remains to his children.
“All I know, Pammy, is that is what he told me. And this was just a year ago,” I said, trying to remain calm. But I could feel this fight for my rights as one of six children rising up inside me. It surprised me, actually. I could feel the argument begin and grow inside my head in a matter of seconds: Why does this matter? It matters a lot! Just because she is executor, she doesn’t get to change things. There had to be a reason Daddy told me that! I don’t want him stuck in the ground where I’ll never go see him. Who cares? He doesn’t live in his ashes, Spryte. You know that. Let it go. Go with the flow here—it’s not worth fighting over anything—what matters is supporting each other right now.
Pammy took a breath . And I felt grateful. “Okay, well, let’s just talk about this later,” she sighed. “Why don’t you go ahead and keep packing up his things tomorrow morning, and Margie and I will keep going through all the paperwork down here. I already removed all his papers. There’s his books, clothes, toiletries, kitchen stuff, and furniture still left in the apartment to deal with.” “Okay, sis,” I replied.
Now, staring at this lone piece of paper in my hand, I look up and quickly scan the small studio apartment, her words from last night still ringing in my ears. “I already removed all his papers.”
She had. I can feel my eyes ready to pop out of my skull as they dart around the room, searching for other papers she had perhaps overlooked. The sweat begins to rise on my skin, even though it’s cool and somewhat breezy in the apartment, the windows wide open to help air out the smell left from his decaying body.
My hands start to shake just slightly as I begin to open up the folded piece of paper, and I can suddenly hear my heartbeat inside my chest. That’s an amazing phenomenon. How unaware we usually are of our own heartbeat until moments like this. And in this moment, I can feel a presence i n the apartment with me.
At the top of the paper is the logo and address of Brett Funeral Home, and I quickly assess the paper to be an order form. I scan right to the center of the page, where it outlines, “Six urns @ $265.00 each to be paid in full.” Frantically, I search for a date! Where is the date on this? Dammit. Why isn’t the date in an obvious place? I finally spot it. All I care about is . . . 1998.
“You got to be kidding me!” I say out loud. “How in the heck did this get here?” But I know.
Immediately I call Pammy, who picks up on ring one. “Pammy, get up here right now—I found it! I just found a paper that has Dad’s request for urns!”
“You what? You did not. Spryte, there are no more papers in the apartment; what are you saying?”
“Pammy, come up here right now! Please!”
Two minutes later, Pammy and Margie come walking through Dad’s door and close it behind them. They both look skeptical but curious. I just hand Pammy the paper, folded face up, the way I had found it. “Pammy, it was right here, sitting all by itself on the desk, in plain view.”
She opens it and gasps. One hand is shaking as she holds the paper, and the other hand is moving slowly up to cover her mouth in disbelief. She looks up at Margie and then at me. “This is really weird. I took all the papers out of here myself, Spryte.” Margie concurs, saying, “I was in here packing his clothes up yesterday. All the papers were already out of here.”
“Why didn’t he tell me about this?” Pammy questions. “That’s not like Dad; he’s so thorough.”
“I know. And especially, why would he tell me just a year ago, and not you? It doesn’t make sense; but Daddy was getting older and more forgetful. Pammy, maybe he just plain forgot to tell you?”
“But how did this paper get here, Spryte?” She is standing next to me in the middle of the room, and Margie is sitting on the bed by the door. We both look over at Margie, who is shaking her head in disbelief.
“It’s super-obvious to me; may not be to you guys. Dad put it here. It was face up on the desk. Pammy, he wanted you to know he made a mistake and forgot to tell you about the urns he wanted us all to have. Whether you removed his papers or not, Dad found this one among them all and got it here in the open, plain as day, for us to find.” They both just look at me, wanting to say, “That can’t be!” but unable to deny the evidence. And in that moment, the door to Daddy’s apartment opens next to Margie. We all turn to look at it in silence, our mouths open.
Thirty seconds later, as we stand in the silence that feels as thick as molasses, none of us knowing what to say, the door closes.