Watching your parents grow old is hard; probably more so if you're an only child and your little family of origin is a single fall, stroke, or skipped heartbeat away from death's dark abyss.
Although my parents are in apparent good health at this moment, the three of us are by turns dark, macabre, and neurotic by nature. We have no problem having awkward conversations about what they want me to do with their dead bodies someday. They believe, as I do, that when you're dead you're dead: In a black oblivion as opposed to a bucolic afterlife, which would be nice, but don't count on it.
The contents of their New York City apartment are another matter. They've lived there since 1975. I suggested to my mom point blank that she begin shedding possessions now. She's 70, so even if she lives to be 100, it will probably take one year of purging for every five years of possession accumulation. At that rate, I will still end up trying to unload half-used rolls of wrapping paper at an estate sale.
Anyway, our overall comfort with/acceptance of death is how I came to ask the obvious question: "Where do you want to be sprinkled?" My parents think being buried is a waste of space and resources, so they want to be cremated. My dad claimed that throwing ashes around NYC is illegal littering, but people do it anyway. My mom said she thought "someplace with water" would be good.
I didn't end up with a clear answer.
Fortunately for us, a geophysicist was over for dinner last night and was privy to this conversation. No seriously. A friend who teaches at the university in Juneau claimed that people's cremated ashes could be pressurized into a diamond, and that there were companies who did just that for a not insignificant fee.
My dislike of diamonds is well documented, but I like pencils, and so do my parents. I'm no geophysicist, but my understanding is that graphite is half way to a diamond, and that perhaps for a discount, the cremated-ashes-diamond-manufacturer could stop short of turning my parents into a tennis bracelet and instead make them into mechanical pencils, more specifically the little lead cartridges you load into mechanical pencils.
My dad always edited documents with these and I'm partial to them myself. And there's no object more powerful than the mighty pen. (Or pencil, as the case may be). I think if I used a mechanical pencil loaded up with my parents, I would always feel their presence in a meaningful way that I wouldn't if I wore them on a pair of studded earrings, or if I sprinkled them in the Hudson River somewhere between the George Washington Bridge and that new-ish sewage treatment plant in Northern Manhattan. The one that has managed to rehabilitate a former Superfund Site into a legitimate candidate for the dispersal of a loved one's remains while simultaneously destroying the neighborhood of persons lacking the financial resources to battle the public nuisance of its stench. But there's a park on the roof, so it's all good.
Ultimately, I might not need an answer to "where do you want to be sprinkled" after all. My folks seemed to be OK with just being turned into mechanical pencil lead, and I think that's what we'll do.