As I was saying, we Crystal Methodists have some unusual customs and rites when it comes to preparing our loved ones for mortal coil off-shuffling.
But first I must apologize for the delay in posting this entry. My mound of dirty clothes finally reached a point where I could no longer get out of my bedroom door and I was trapped for several days without computer access. Fortunately a passing neighbor finally heard my pitiful cries for help and shoveled the snow away from my bedroom window so I could escape, albeit as a quivering and shrivelled husk of my former self. However, you’ll be happy to hear that I wrote a bunch of blog notes on my cat with a Sharpie so I’m ready to leap back into this whole thing with a vengeance. Lucky for all of us I have a white cat.
Anyway, my brother Leo lay dying of cancer in his apartment so my family and I and members of the local CM church all worked together to improve his odds of landing a cushy night-watchman job in Heaven.
The first thing we traditionally do for a bed-ridden hospice patient is to turn on the TV and leave it on 24 hours a day. In Heaven’s Trailer Park one spends an eternity watching standard cable, so we like to get them used to it here on Earth where the family can support them in the initial stages of having their brain turned to mush. If the patient is in the more advanced stages of death, they are unable to change channels themselves or hit the mute button on the remote so we can make them watch whatever infomercials we choose and they can do nothing whatsoever about it except make feeble whimpering noises. This is particularly true if we leave the remote control out of their reach entirely.
Next, the entire Crystal Methodist congregation works out a schedule whereby elderly couples stop by with casseroles each night for the family and dying person. For some reason these are called "hot dish" here in Minnesota, probably because the word ‘casserole’ looks like one of those foreign words that can’t be pronounced correctly so why bother. At any rate, the rules for a traditional CM casserole are that it must be beige (or at least an earth-tone of some sort), it must have cream of mushroom soup in it, and it must be bland and mushy. Other than that, the sky’s the limit. The better casserolers try to include a vegetable, usually peas, somewhere in the mix, but this is considered "fancy" and is entirely optional.
The purpose for bringing casseroles over to the family is unclear, but we do it because we always have. The dying person is not able to eat it at this point but the mother makes him eat it anyway while the elderly couple stands there and watches him. Of course, as soon as the elderly couple hobbles out the family calls out and orders pizza for themselves. But of such things are traditions made.
Another rite we perform is to sit around the dying person and mouth platitudes. We Crystal Methodists actually have a Book of Platitudes from which we read, much like other churchs have hymnals. Some of the Platitudes are intended for the dying person: "…" is the most common one by far. Others include "…?", "Hey, Leo, you’re looking good, how are you feeling?" and "Sure, you cheap bastard, go ahead and die and stick me with the cable bill." (I made that last one up.)
Other Platitudes are meant to comfort the family and are best said in front of the dying person as if he can’t hear: "He’s going to a better place," "His suffering will be over soon," and "Can I have his stereo?" are all examples of this type of Platitude. Generally everyone just tunes these out and ignores them except for the dying person who thinks to himself "Um, hello, I’m right here, why are you pretending I can’t hear you and wasting my precious last minutes with conversational goo?"
One of the stranger rites we Crystal Methodists have developed as we are faced with more and more cases of prolonged and agonizing deaths from cancer is something we call Character Building. We take the God-given opportunity of having a bed-ridden loved one completely at our mercy and make him as miserable as possible in his last days. He is alredy completely unable to get comfortable in his bed because of the disease itself and because of the various rashes and atrophied muscles that accompany it, so we Build His Character by putting steel wool in his adult diapers and duct-taping Brillo pads under his armpits. While it may seem cruel to outsiders to watch a dying person writhe in agony with tears leaking out of the corners of his eyes, we CM’ers take comfort in the fact that his character will be totally buff when it comes time for the Big Hearing. And if the person should end up going to Hell, it might not seem so bad after what he’s been through in his last days on Earth.
In the final installment of this short treatise on rural Midwestern customs associated with death and dying I want to talk about the many Crystal Methodist sacraments and how they are administered and discuss the esoteric rituals that occur after the person’s death. That is, if someone comes over and does my laundry for me. Otherwise all bets are off.