What do you want on your tombstone?
A few weeks ago my tombstone arrived and is now firmly ensconced on a cement pier that reaches below the frost line, because heaven forbid the ground shifts under a dead man’s stone. It’s a simple tombstone, granite from Minnesota, my name and the year of my birth, no Harley-Davidson etched onto the back; I’ve owned and enjoyed Harleys but it’s not a thing for which I hope to be remembered.
A walk through a cemetery reveals all manner of messages on stone; over-the-road trucks, cattle, hearts, Hallmark sayings, etc. You’ve seen them. Families mean well, but inscribing “Cub Fan” on a tombstone doesn’t give the deceased much credit as a thoughtful human being. Perhaps I’m too harsh.
I considered having “Most Of My Teachers Were Fools,” etched in haughty script on the backside of my tombstone, but that sounded too angry. Have I mentioned my anger issues? The poet Richard Brautigan once wrote “My teachers could easily have ridden with Jesse James for all the time they stole from me.” It is perhaps too long for a tombstone message, but certainly worth considering.
“That One Guy” is what should be on my tombstone. When you don’t have children or grandchildren more often than not you end up in a forgotten dustbin of local history where, just a few weeks after my passing, people will make reference to me by saying, “You know, that one guy. Long hair. Old. Cranky.”
Dying isn’t on my schedule just yet but when it is I don’t wish to be in a germ-less room with white sheets, earnest young docs hovering, pretending it all means something. I’m thinking a quiet two-lane highway, maybe midafternoon, cruise control engaged on about ten over the speed limit, major heart attack, car into a ditch, spectacularly airborne after hitting a farm entrance, maybe a half-gainer high into the Midwest air, something for the volunteer boys who invariably show up at these things to talk about for years to come back at the fire station. At least that way I won’t be quite so anonymous.
Enough of this. The end of days will come soon enough. Religious people and eschatologists know exactly what I mean. No need dwelling on it. Yet.
So we do the best we can to make some preparations, because the end of life is on the next page, or maybe the page after that, depending upon the author of the book. On the other hand it doesn’t really matter, because at this moment a deer is munching on the shrubs just outside my window, and she is beautiful and very much alive.
• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County