Dying, Death, And Way Too Many Places To Spread The Ashes

By Bob Wagner, AAP Columnist

The obituaries. My grandfather called it the Irish sports page. In fact, the obits are the reason my wife and I get up in the morning. First one to the paper gets to yell to the other room, “Guess who died?”

This morning’s paper was a family trifecta. We get to dust off our black suits and cancel some plans for the next few evenings.

It’s a sensitive subject in some parts, but not here. I’ve even been threatening to do a book about the art of dying, funerals, and what some folks want as their last requests.

My best old buddy McGinley, many times mentioned in my writing, was dying for a long year and a half. We talked every day of that time, me in Jersey, he in Maine; the conversations would have made a good book. We discussed writing it all down, but it never happened. Getting to the inevitable end, it turned out that McGinley was more of a pain in the ass dead than alive. We had WAY too much time to plan.

He wanted his ashes scattered in 26 places, all spots that had been important to him in his lifetime. Some were easy to get to; others, not so much. The Wading River required a canoe trip. That was a good get together for old friends from college, the neighborhood, and some fellow musicians. Hawk Mountain called for intrepid climbers from his past. The Zane Grey Pool, a famous fly fishing spot, was a pleasure to do. Needless to say, the acts of ash spreading called for friends and family to come together after John’s passing for continuing emotional get-togethers.

The chore of actually putting McGinley in small containers fell to me. His lovely bride, a fair lass who taught music, shared John’s Bohemian lifestyle, and put up with all our nonsense, drew the line at the actual final prep. But John and I had anticipated this, and had all the necessary containers at the ready. Once again, too much time for planning.

I must admit that a small bit of McGinley resides in my truck, behind my seat, awaiting his final and last rest, at his childhood home in Pennsauken. I’m waiting for the current owner to go on vacation in Alaska, so I can sneak into his garage and put John in the loft to finally fulfill his final wishes.

I’m often surprised at how people react to my stories about death and dying. So much so, in fact, that I am seriously going to start the new book! Getting folks to open up about their last wishes promises to be quite interesting. And I will have to research the rules about all this scattering business. There may be some small state laws that are being bent, or possibly badly broken here. I’ll have to spend some time with my friend Inglesby over fishing and adult beverages, while perusing the rules about final resting places.

I welcome any and all of your thoughts and ideas about where you want to go, and maybe why, in the months to come. I promise to include a follow up each month for a while, to force me to actually do some work. Until then, stay well, and if not, I hope your plans are all written down. You can’t trust your kids.

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