What Happens When You Die?

Growing up we ate a family dinner. Every night. Mom, Dad, older brother, yours truly and little sister. We ate in the kitchen. Together at the table. We held hands and said grace before anyone touched the food. We made eye contact as we prayed. We blew kisses to one another after saying “Amen”. We smiled and shared food graciously. We were the picture of domestic perfection gathered around the table for the quintessential family dinner.

Except for the TV.

There was (and still is) a TV in my parents’ kitchen. Tuned into ABC news. Always. Inevitably, the moment after we so graciously shared food with one another, Dad silenced us.

Dad: “Shh. Shhh. Let’s hear what Jim O’Brien has to say..”

Me: Whispering to little sister, “I changed the name on my cabbage patch doll’s adoption papers to Amelita Cassie. Do you like it? She looks like an Amelita, don’t you think? I mean, I’ve never known an Amelita, but I think she looks like an Amelita would. If I knew one.”

Little Sister: Eyes wide with excitement, “I LOVE it! Amelita! It’s beautiful!”

Dad: “Shhhhhh! I’m trying to hear Jim O’Brien, girls. We’ve got the 5 day forecast coming up. Then you can talk.”

We eat in silence for 1 minute…1 minute, 30 seconds…older brother is going to town on the olive tray.

Yuck. Olives. He can have them all.

Little Sister: Whispering loudly, “I am going to ask for a cabbage patch preemie for Christmas! They smell like real babies!”

Me: “Christmas? But it’s May. What if you write it down, then forget where you put your list? Maybe you should write it in your diary. Then you’ll remember.”

Little Sister: Forgetting to whisper: “YES! My diary!”

Dad’s neck veins begin bulging.

Mom: Whispering, “Girls, eat your meatloaf. Your brother is eating all of his meatloaf.”

We glare at him. He grins at Mom. Looks at us. Points to himself and mouths, “I’m #1” to us.

Brown noser.

Little Sister: Forgetting to whisper again, “I don’t like meatloaf. It’s gross.”

Me: Whispering, “I don’t really like meatloaf either. Can I have something else? Cereal?”

Dad: “Goddammit, girls! I am trying to hear the weather! Can you wait to talk until the commercial?!”

Me: “But, Dad, the weather’s over.”

Dad: “Shhh. Shh. I want to hear the sports. Bethany, what did our boy Mo Cheeks do last night?”

He had me there. I always wanted to hear what Mo had done.

We wound up eating our dinner in virtual silence every night. And, Mom, before you get sensitive and think I’m making fun of you and Dad…I’m not. I personally think silence at the dinner table is a stroke of genius.

Allow me to illustrate why…

The Interrogator was obsessed with death for a brief time last year. One of his friends at school had mentioned something in morning circle about someone dying. That’s all it took for the avalanche of questions to commence.

Me: “Boys, please get your drinks and sit down at the dinner table.”

Everyone sits down and begins eating (oops, no grace before meals at our house).

Me: “So, Interrogator, tell me about your day. What was the best part?”

Interrogator: “Mom, I don’t know what the best part was.”

Me: Animated, “Think about it. Think about all you did today at school with your teachers and your friends. And everything you learned. What did you like best?”

Interrogator: “Mom, I like now best. Mom, I need to tell you something.”

Me: “What do you need to tell me, buddy?”

Interrogator: “Mom, it’s OK when I die because I will be alive again on Easter! And then they will hang me up on the cross.”

Well now. This is really something else. Definitely not what I’d expected to hear.

Interrogator: “So, don’t be sad, Mom.”

Waldorf: “Interrogator, what in God’s name are you talking about?”

Kenyan: “Interrogator, you have no idea what you’re saying.”

Verb: “I’ll be sad when you die, Interrogator.”

Interrogator: “Thanks, Verb. But I’ll be back. Don’t worry. On Easter day.  Then I’ll die on the cross. Then, I…um…oh. What happens then, Mom?”

Uh-oh. He expects me to answer. I’m the Mom. I’m supposed to have the answers.

B&B: “Interrogator, I’ll tell you what happens when you die.”

Me: “Oh, sweet Jesus, please do not. Don’t scare these children. Not at the dinner table.”

B&B: “Scare them? You mean tell them the truth?”

B&B is an atheist. Which does not make him a devil worshipper. It makes him a non-believer. A lover of science. A man who requires proof. And please don’t feel badly for him. He is completely at peace with his faithless existence. And please don’t pray for me that he finds Jesus. I don’t need him to find Jesus. I need him to hit the toilet when he pees instead of my white bathroom floor. If you’re going to pray for anything, please pray for better aim.

Waldorf: Proudly, “I’m not scared of anything. What are you going to tell us?”

Kenyan: Unsure, “Wait, is it really scary? Because I don’t like really scary things. I like things that are a tiny bit scary, but not a lot scary. Is it a lot scary? Because I don’t want to know.”

Interrogator: Concerned, “Mom, after they hang me on the cross, what happens next?”

Me: “No one is going to hang you on a cross, sweetheart. That happened to someone a long time ago.”

Interrogator: “So, what happens when I die?”

B&B: “Let’s talk about what we do know. Let’s talk about what happens to your body after you die.”

So much for talking about the best part of everyone’s day…

Interrogator: “Well, I want Mom to have it.”

B&B: “Nope. Mom can’t have it. It will smell bad.”

Interrogator: Wrinkling his nose, “Bad like poopy?”

Verb: “HEY! No potty talk at the table!”

B&B: “Interrogator, after you die, your body will be buried underground.”

Oh, Christ, here he goes…

Interrogator:  Troubled, “Huh? But I can’t breathe under there! And there are spiders. You know I don’t like spiders! I’m afraid of them!”

Kenyan: “Or you could be burned…what’s that called…incensed?”

Me: “Kenyan, incensed is what I’m going to be with Daddy if he doesn’t choose his words carefully. And homicidal is what I’ll be when he sleeps through some inevitable nightmares that one or both of your brothers will have. But, to answer your question, the word you’re looking for is cremated.”

Kenyan: “Oh, yeah, cremated. They burn your body, then it becomes dust. And Mom can save your dust. Or let it blow away.”


I look at B&B.

Nice work. I mean, truly, really very nice work.

B&B looks at me.

I pick up my phone. Text him these words…

“I will fucking kill you if u use the words ‘worms will eat u’ in a conversation with the Interrogator. U dig?”

He texts me back…

“It’s true. After u die, and your body is buried, eventually, worms eat ur lifeless body. I will not lie to him.”

I text him…

“Oh, U WILL LIE. This is ur child, and u will lie. U will lie or the worms will be eating UR BODY. Very soon.”


The Interrogator is in a full panic at this point. Crying. Hyperventilating. Head in his hands.

Interrogator: Pleading with the Verb, “Don’t let them burn me, Verb. Don’t let them do it.”

Verb: Standing on his chair like a knight in shining armor, yells, “I’ll per-tect you, Interrogator!” *(per-tect=protect)

Waldorf and the Kenyan are delighted by this spectacle. Pandemonium at the dinner table is good stuff for them.

B&B and I put our phones down.

I get up to hug the Interrogator. That’s not enough for him. He follows me back to my chair and climbs onto my lap. Which means the Verb feels the need to climb onto my lap as well. They elbow each other (and me) as they settle in against me.

Looks like I’ll be eating a cold dinner tonight.

Just when I think the conversation is over…

B&B: Entirely too excited, “Boys, do you know what Daddy wants done to his body after he dies?”

I am giving him the angriest of my angry eyes, but he can’t see my face. I am buried under his two youngest children.

Waldorf: Like an eager student, “Oh, I know! I know! You want to donate it!”

Kenyan: “Donate it where? To a museum?”

B&B: Pleased with his pupils, “You are correct, Waldorf. I want my body donated. Not to a museum, Kenyan. To science. SCIENCE!”

*B&B never speaks the word “science”. He yells it. I don’t know whether it’s an outburst of affection for the subject or a shout-out to the old Thomas Dolby song She Blinded me with Science. Maybe it’s both.

Kenyan: “What happens to your body when it’s donated to science, Daddy?”

I reach around the Interrogator, desperately feeling on the table for my phone in order to send threatening texts to B&B. But, my God, the Interrogator is heavy. I can barely move my arm under his weight.

B&B: “Oh, it’s amazing what is done with your body when it’s donated. Medical students get to study it. And learn from it. They use it to learn how to operate on living bodies once they become real doctors.”

Kenyan: Visualizing, “Wait, so they cut you? Like they cut your dead body?”

B&B: Grinning, “Yes! Yes, they will cut my body open!”

Waldorf: “I bet it smells bad. No offense, Daddy.”

B&B: Grinning and nodding, “It will smell horrible, Waldorf! Imagine the worst smell you’ve ever smelled….my dead body will smell worse than that.”

The three of them are completely engaged with one another. Loving this conversation.

My arms are going numb holding these two kids.

Me: “OK, I think we probably should change the subject right now. I’ve got 2 kids with definite n-i-g-h-t-m-a-r-e potential whose appetites have already been ruined.”

Waldorf and the Kenyan voice their protest in unison: ”Come on! Let Daddy finish! We want to hear it!”

B&B: Urgently, “Oh, wait, you know what’s important? Beth, you can’t forget to tell them about my eyes.”

Me: “Tell whom? And what about your eyes?”

B&B: Eyes wide, “About my Lasik surgery.”

Me: Nodding, “Should I just slap a sticky note to your corpse? ‘To whom it may concern: study his eyeballs. He had horrible vision that was fixed by the Lasik procedure. But then his vision started to go bad again 10 years later. That really pissed him off by the way.’? How’s that? Good plan?”

Now my legs are going numb under the weight of these kids.

B&B: Completely unaffected by my sarcasm,“Good question. I’ll have to look into that.”

B&B will have to look into it…

Kenyan: Growing pale,“Wait, wait, wait. Did you say eyeballs?”

B&B: “Yes. They will probably remove most of my organs. And they should definitely study my eyeballs.  Because I had an operation to fix my vision. This is really interesting, guys. They cut a flap off the surface of my eyeball. Then they peeled the flap back. Then they lasered off the appropriate amount of cells underneath. Then they replaced the flap!”

Kenyan: White as a sheet, “Oh, wow, Mommy, I don’t feel very good. I don’t feel very good at all. This eyeball talk makes me feel not very good.”

He leaves the table and walks slowly upstairs to the bathroom.

Me: “B&B, I have two emotional basketcases on my lap. And a possible puker in the bathroom. Now’s the perfect time to take what remains of your audience elsewhere to continue this enlightening conversation.”

B&B: Agreeably, “Sure, Waldorf, let’s go downstairs where your brothers can’t hear us.”

I groan with effort as I rise from my chair, still holding the Interrogator and the Verb. I sit them on the counter and scribble a note for myself.

“Best use of tax return money: TV for the kitchen”

I’m telling you, my parents were geniuses.

30 thoughts on “What Happens When You Die?

  1. Love it! And oh my gosh, my family dinners were identical! Except one less kid at our table. Action news, Jim O’Brien etc. And we had to silence when the weather was on too! Another wonderful post!

    • Thanks, Em! I read this one to Waldorf and the Kenyan, and they didn’t understand why Poppy couldn’t just check his phone for the weather. Waldorf: “Didn’t Poppy have a cell phone?”, Me: “Yes, but it was the size of a briefcase. And there was no internet connection. Actually, there was no internet in existence at the time.” Kenyan: “WHAT? How did you LIVE? How did you SURVIVE?” If he didn’t hear the weather at dinner time, Poppy had to wait until the 11:00 news. Killer.

  2. Another winner! Your recall of the little details (ABC news etc.) is amazing and makes it so easy to slip up to either one of those dinner tables… I can hear the TV and B&B clearly!

    • Thanks, Ann! The only other tidbit I considered throwing in there was about Don Polec. If Don Polec’s World was featured as well, the gag order stood. But we kids were at least interested in his wacky take on the world.

    • Megan, my kids do it now too. All the time. They’ve never even heard the song. Kenyan, “Mommy, today I had science. SCIENCE!” Naturally, B&B loves it.

  3. Well it is so nice to know that my husband is not the only father that is oblivious to TMI. I have to remember the texting technique! LOVE it. He knows my looks and usually gets it when I am looking at him with the death stare of “If you say another word that upsets our children, I will kick you until you are dead!” But my 8 year old also knows this look and urges my husband to ignore me and to continue his history lesson on what a concentration camp was and what happened to the people in them. History is our “science” in this house. My children have watched more History Channel than most 70 year old retirees. And I so totally get it when you say that YOU are the one dealing with the midnight nightmare scream. I have to practically push the hubs out of the bed in order for him to get up. Ahhh, MEN. I better get blogging this is good stuff! LOL. Thanks, as usual you banged out another good one!

    • Thanks, Michelle! We typically curtail the phone use when the kids are around, particularly at the dinner table, but sometimes it’s the best bet. No doubt your 8 year old is completely aware of what looks between you and your hubby mean! Damn these smart kids! B&B gets up at night for puke duty. Nothing else. He’s a rockstar when they’re puking. I love that you guys talk about history! If it’s not science, it’s typically math or obscure animal facts. Neither of which are my forte. The other night, B&B quizzes the kids, “Do you think there will be a komodo dragon at the circus?” Kenyan, “Of course not, Daddy. It has 64 different poisons in its mouth. It’s too deadly to be at the circus.” WTF? I googled it later. The Kenyan was right. I am too dumb to participate in the conversations at my own dinner table. I’ll just have to write about them instead.

  4. Remind me to discuss with B&B, the next time I see him, the donated-to-science body I had a close encounter with at my previous job. Picture it: a headless, armless, legless torso lying face down (without a face, mind you) on a stretcher. Copious amounts of hair on his back. Huge black stitches (not nice, neat ones of the Martha Stewart variety either) where the neck and arms and legs used to be. Needless to say, I was engrossed and repulsed at the same time. I could not tear my eyes away from it. My co-worker was really curious to know whether, when turned over, we’d be able to see if another “3rd leg” was removed and stitched as well. I had not thought of this but after she said it, one couldn’t help but wonder….

    On the plus side, the dude looked like he was in pretty good shape prior to kicking the can.

    So, B&B has got THAT scene to look forward to, at least.

    • Ave, it doesn’t bother him in the least! He is a horse of a different color, B&B is. Virtually hairless as well. I’d like his body to be donated to science. And some serious studying needs to be done on his lungs. Lance Armstrong’s, I tell you.

    • Thanks, Aunt M! Check in on Mom please…I may be in trouble with Dad. First Erin’s wedding, now the Jim O’Brien bit…he’s going to feel like I’m picking on him.

  5. My favorite one so far. I love you two texting at the table. As I lol, Calvin sitting next to me lol. Jill says “are you reading those stories about the verb again?”

  6. A little sports and weather never hurt anyone–especially now that he thinks
    Cecily Tinan “looks great, doesn’t she”! To which I readily respond–“she does NOT
    dress appropriately for a prime time weather person”! Sports is another story-someone is presently watching PTI (Pardon the Interruption) as I load the dishwasher and type this!! Dad is not mad–especially since you said “genius”.
    PS: There is an extra kitchen size TV in the basement–dust it off, Girl!

    • Is that pig of a TV in your basement B&B’s and my first TV? Can you imagine? It would take up my entire counter. The only time I see Cecily is at races. She runs by me so quickly, I can’t see what she’s wearing. Faster than B&B even.

  7. as Kenyan’s teacher I am surprised I haven’t read about this little family time in a small moment story or how Block Man has kille Rhombus man and donated his body for SCIENCE>>>>

    • LOL! Alex on the cross is last year’s news for the Kenyan…literally. I read this one to him the other night and he was giggling, “oh, I forgot about that, Mommy! Didn’t that happen last year?”

  8. Absolutely hysterical!!!! I can just picture B&B tormenting the kids like that! I’d kill Rob if he did that. AND make hims stay up with Lauren when the nightmare started!

    • This is why I am ok with B&B’s frequent late arrival for dinner. We avoid these scenes. I slowly lose my mind, one evening at a time, but nobody has nightmares.

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