Friday, April 3, 2009

Smoke That Last Cigarette: Its Time For the Firing Squad at Your Funeral

Dad in his skivvies at Army Reserve camp one summer. He was preparing for a target shooting tournament at Ft. Ord, California, where mornings can be very chilly. The weapon, of course, wasn't loaded. Yet.

My father has been talking quite a bit lately about the funeral he would like to have. This is difficult for me. I am not yet able to face losing him. But he is 89and he does think about it and, even though he has dementia, it isn't illogical for this to be on his mind.

One day this week he told me and one of his favorite caregivers, a smart young nurse named Carmen from Argentina, that he wanted a firing squad at his funeral. The two of us got to giggling as we told him a firing squad was for executions and since at his funeral he would, presumably, already be dead he would have no need to be done away with in this fashion.

But as much as we were laughing and trying to get him to laugh with us, he was determined to tell us that whatever we said, he still wanted a firing squad at his funeral. "They shoot blanks in the air as a salute," he said. He was an award-winning sharpshooter on the Army pistol team for many years, so he doesn't use military terms lightly, even now that he's ill. And I'm sure he's been to a lot of military funerals. Still, the term firing squad sounded very funny to our ears.

"Will you get to have a final cigarette?" I wrote, asking him the question in writing because he is now totally deaf. "Will you wear a blindfold?"

Even he started to giggle at this. "You two girls are laughing about my funeral," he said as he, too, found himself unable to do anything but laugh. "But I know what I'm talking about. I still want a firing squad."

My Dad retired from the reserves as a full Colonel. He now has supplemental insurance from the military called TRICARE and with it he and Mom pay just $3 for most of their prescriptions. I should have deferred to a man smart enough to have his kind of investments and who nevertheless pays just $3 for his pills. He may not remember seeing my sister since she was a baby, but he still knows his military terms, as I was about to learn.

I Googled, "firing squad." It turns out there are two definitions, to wit:

1. A detachment assigned to shoot persons condemned to death.
2. A detachment of soldiers chosen to fire a salute at a military funeral.

"Okay Dad," I said to him when I saw him next. "I will make sure there is a firing squad at your funeral."

He looked at me carefully. Dementia has taken so much from him, but often, he still has his sense of humor.

"That's fine," he said. "But not yet. You'll still have to wait 'til I'm dead."

Dad asks about my sister Kimberly a lot, because right now he only remembers her as a baby. He wants to know what she has been doing since, and is always surprised to learn she is now a grandmother. She doesn't look like one here.

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