A Fishing Pole, A Joint, A Coor’s, and a Gamepad

It is and it isn’t like I imagined. You know what I mean, that time you imagined the death of your child? We’ve all done it. I imagined that it would be kind of like a dramatic movie… a mother learns of her child’s death, she buries her face in her hands, falls to her knees, and sobs uncontrollably… cue music. It wasn’t exactly like that for me.

My legs did buckle and my husband had to help me to the ground, but I didn’t really sob. I remember being shaken, confused, and asking questions desperately searching for answers. It’s as if my brain needed more information before I could figure out what was actually happening and how I should react. I didn’t know what to do, I felt out of my body. I remember thinking that I should be like the woman in the dramatic movie, a ball of mush on the floor, or at least curled up on the dirt at the safari camp, but all I knew is that I needed to get home. My brain couldn’t process what it had been told so I went into action mode. JUST GET HOME! 

How I wish teleportation was a thing. I could write an entire blog on being 10,000 miles from home when you find out your worst nightmare has come true, but I’ll spare you the details for now. Over the next 24 hours while we were traveling I was just numb. I thought maybe I reacted this way because I WAS 10,000 miles from home and had to pull myself together enough to get on a plane. After talking to other Mom’s I think its pretty “normal” to go numb. Our body’s way of protecting our brain I guess. I was worried about Kyle and I wanted to hold him in my arms and comfort him. One thing more difficult than losing a child is watching your surviving child process his own pain.

We finally arrived home after 24 hours of hell. During the day, I focused on staying strong for Kyle and I’m pretty sure he did the same for me. We held each other, we cried, and we laughed… yes, we laughed. We had to laugh! Our brains needed to process emotions on both ends of the spectrum. Sadness and joy. There is joy locked in memories and sharing stories brought back that joy. Today, more than ever, I realize how important it is to make memories with those we love. The joyful memories are what helps you survive when your person dies. I needed joy to survive the pain.

My soul crushing agony would come at night when all was still and quiet and everyone had fallen asleep. When there was no one checking in on me, bringing me “stuff” (water, food, tissue, etc.), asking questions, trying to comfort me. I remember my brain churning as if it was waiting for something to click, some idea to pop up so I could go into action to fix what had gone wrong. I thought I could put my problem solving skills to use and come up with a solution. There was no solution. I had to learn a new way of doing things… Every thing! 

Our family is not traditional… Thank God! We are an eclectic mix of personalities and demeanors. Some more emotional, others highly analytical, and a few goofballs thrown in just to make it entertaining. You know the old saying, “Families put the FUN in dysFUNction”… yeah, that’s us. This family has a great sense of humor, even a dark sense of humor which is definitely needed throughout times such as this. We were in an unimaginable dark time of our lives and yet there were moments we were able to laugh and take a step back from the pain. I needed these moments to catch my breath.

One such moment came for us in the funeral director’s office, just days after Dillon’s death. This is not a meeting anyone wants to have… the day you decide how your child’s body will be “disposed of”. Yep, I said it. I’m not sure what else to call it. This is another thing that we don’t often discuss in our society, “What do you want to happen to your body when you die?”. People skirt around this subject all the time but guess what, you are going to die! And someone has to make decisions on what happens to your body. Don’t wait until you are “old” to have this conversation. Dillon died at 24. This definitely wasn’t something he planned. The boys father died 2 years prior in 2016 and we had talked about death and what we would want done with our bodies, so I did know that Dillon wanted to be cremated. I’m thankful that I didn’t have to struggle with that decision. I remember when my step-father died suddenly and my mother had to make these painful decisions about his service, as they never discussed it. Did he want to be buried or cremated, Mom chose cremation. What kind of casket? Yes, even in cremation there has to be a vessel for the body. You can go fancy or simple… top of the line wooden casket or cardboard box. They even ask if you want a pillow placed under their head for the low price of $50-$100 depending on the pillow. Let me tell you, the time to make these decisions is not when you are traumatized with grief. It can be like you are sitting across from a used car salesman getting a sales pitch while you are deeply emotional and the best decisions don’t always get made.

Fortunately Mike, our funeral director, was an acquaintance of ours and made this process as painless as he could. He had actually met Dillon just a few weeks before he died and it was comforting to know someone we knew would be the one to take care of him. We were asked if there was anything we wanted to include in the casket to be cremated… a letter, a picture, or a trinket of some sort. I thought for a moment and said, “A fishing pole?”. Dillon was an avid fisher and I thought he might want his pole with him. The director said, “Sure, as long as it wasn’t solid metal” for obvious reasons I’m not going to explain. It was what happened next that gave us a momentary break from the pain. Kyle, knowing his brother very well asked, “Can I roll him a fat joint?” Mike looked at us and said, “I don’t see why not.” In a moment that was so somber, we all laughed. You know that belly laugh, and it was such a release. I can’t imagine what the people waiting outside the office were thinking? But it didn’t matter… we needed that moment of laughter so desperately. 

When Dillon’s body was cremated he had a fishing pole at his side, a joint in his mouth, a Coor’s in his left hand, and his xbox gamepad in his right. It brings a smile to my face to know that Dillon had the comfort of some of his favorite things when that button got pushed.

How do you want your body disposed? Do you want a fancy or simple casket? What’s your “fat joint”?

I want to be cremated in a cardboard box with a glass of Krug Champagne in one hand, a gorgeous bouquet of Gerbera daisies in the other, a soft, cashmere blanket over my body, and my favorite, well used pillow under my head. Please don’t buy me a new one!

I urge you to talk about death and dying with your family and to share your thoughts and experiences here. All my love, Mary


  1. I love your words, I got goosebumps as I have also had to deal with the loss of a child. Every word touched me deeply. Thank you

  2. Mary, you are spot on in this post having been the memorial service coordinator at our CA Church knowing this information is so helpful. Hugs to y’all

  3. Laughing with tears in my eyes. Yup. A can of beer, a fishing pole and a joint–what a way to go. Thanks for reminding us to have this difficult conversation with our loved ones.

  4. Thank you again Mary for your authentic words. We put a computer motherboard, a light bulb, photos of family, and notes from friends in Kyle’s casket. We bought a plain pine coffin and everyone at the funeral signed it and wrote messages with sharpies. The pens were all the colors of the rainbow 🌈. It was so beautiful and colorful. His teachers from school sang the song “True Colors”. So strange how something can be both horrible and beautiful at the same time.

  5. This is great Mary. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to much more.❤

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