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Things You Only Know When Your Parents Are Dead

Here's some stuff I've picked up after a year of being an orphan.

Joel and his mother.

Both my parents are hella dead. When I was 15 my dad died and I got six weeks off school. Last year my mom died and I got two weeks off work. Two weeks! Paid leave! On top of my annual vacation time! If my last remaining parent hadn't just died in semi-tragic circumstances, I would've been like: Damn, this is like winning the lottery.

Instead I spent a two weeks shaking hands with funeral directors and going to council buildings and filling out forms. Because here's the thing people tell you about both your parents dying: nothing. They tell you nothing. And there is loads of stuff to deal with. For example: What monetary value do you put on the gift you send to the neighbor who has a really faraway look in their eyes because they found your mother's corpse? I sent her a $85 beer basket. Is that appropriate? Is that too much? I don't know and neither does anyone else.

So, here's some stuff I've picked up after a year of being an orphan.

LOOKING AT THE CORPSES OF THE PEOPLE WHO MADE YOU IS QUITE WEIRD
Funeral directors have a lot of things to deal with—liquids, cavities, flicking through an eight-page pamphlet of somber flower arrangements and pretending any of it matters... But what I've noticed they have the most trouble with is making the corpses of your parents look like your actual parents.

Obviously, dead people look way different than living people. That is science. But what is the point of having a long conversation about how your dad wore his hair ("He combed it with a wet comb maybe once a decade?") or giving them a freezer bag full of your mom's actual makeup if they're just going to rouge and preen them up so they look like they were two casualties in an especially competitive drag queen dance battle?

Illustrations by James Burgess

YOU HAVE A LOAD OF CRAP YOU DON'T NEED
You never really think about how much crap you have in your mom’s house until you are forced to sit cross-legged on the floor sorting through it in those boring days between her death and her funeral. Here are just some of the things I found: a box of 95/96 Panini stickers, mainly of Paul McGrath; some shells from a vacation I don’t remember; a Dreamcast, a console that has not been played by a human being since about 1999; some binoculars with a swastika on them; and about a million pages torn out of the Times’ Saturday supplement with recipes printed on them. You are never going to make Mizeria. Throw all the non-Nazi stuff in the bin and start over.

YOU GET WAY FEWER DRINKS BOUGHT FOR YOU THAN YOU'D THINK JUST FOR TELLING PEOPLE YOU ARE AN ORPHAN
I've had like two drinks by virtue of my parents dying. I get more than that just for going to Pret for people at work.

BIRTHDAYS ARE DIFFERENT
You get way less stuff.

EASTER IS DIFFERENT
Had to buy my own six-pack of Creme Eggs this year.

CHRISTMAS IS DIFFERENT
I HAD TO COOK MY OWN TURKEY.

YOUR PARENTS HAD SOME DARK SECRETS
I liked my dad until the other day when, 12 years after his demise, I learned that he killed our dog. For clarity, he didn’t just lunge for her one day and strangle her with his hands. But he did have to quietly put a cushion over her face and push down because we couldn’t afford the vet and she was on the way out anyway. I had quite fond memories of my father before this. Now all I can think of is him, sobbing into the air, knees on a cushion, while Suzie convulsed beneath him. Which sofa cushion did he use to kill our dog? Why did they tell me she went peacefully? Who else has he killed?

So many questions. So many haunting questions.

Joel's father.

ASHES ARE INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT TO DISPOSE OF
We forgot dad was still around until we found a tub full of his dusty remains in the back of my sister’s wardrobe one year. What was left of the family decided to scatter them somewhere vaguely important. If you’re planning to do this, ask your parents now, while they are vital and healthy, where they want to be scattered. (Everyone has an opinion about where ashes should be strewn and all of them are wrong. We basically had to draw straws to decide.). Similarly, when you’re tiptoeing onto a golf course because a family vote decided that it was the most vaguely appropriate place we could think of, don’t do it on a grey, overcast, windy Sunday afternoon, because you’ll get dad on your trousers.

PICKING FUNERAL MUSIC WILL TAKE A WEEK OF YOUR LIFE
When my mom died, she had ten CDs in her possession: Lou Bega’s "Mambo No. 5" (CD single), Tom Jones’ Reload, a load of crap by U2, and the self-titled Jiggerypipery by Jiggerypipery. If you are wondering, Jiggerypipery put a fun new modern twist on the bagpipes. They are so bad at music, if played loud while preparing dinner, they will put you off your mac and cheese. Meanwhile, I can only assume my dad heard Rumours in 1977 and thought, Well, that’s me. No more music for me. I’m full, because that and Eric Clapton: Greatest Hits were the only two tapes he ever had in the car when I was a kid.

“I guess he liked… Miles… Davis?” We played Miles Davis.

“I guess… she… really liked 'Ass in the Graveyard' by Jiggerypipery?” We did not play "Ass in the Graveyard" by Jiggerypipery. Can you imagine what a roomful of mourners would say if you played an exceptionally real bagpipe solo while your mom was slowly being wheeled into a fiery inferno? Can you imagine being at a funeral, sobbing behind sunglasses, while someone played Jiggery-fucking-pipery? They would say things like, "You know what? Probably best she’s gone." And, "Actually, can’t really make it to the wake. I know you’ve just spent $500 on vol-au-vents. But, I can’t come because you just played bagpipe music." And you would have to understand. Instead we played—and I’m not even joking here—music from the South African apartheid musical Sarafina! The funeral:wake ratio was a good 60:40, and we were lucky to have that.

YOU WILL PUT ON WEIGHT
If the last person who told you "mince is not a meal" succumbed to liver cancer in July 2013, know that without their gentle chiding, you'll chunk up a good five pounds in a year.

LIVER TWINGES ARE MORTALLY TERRIFYING
My mother died of liver cancer and, after years of cider-shaped abuse, the same organ disintegrated inside my dad like a roll of toilet paper dropped in the toilet. So, it's safe to say livers are not exactly my friend. Try having an indigestion-type of pain in the middle of your torso after both your parents got George Best’d to death without thinking you are dying, too.

HOUSES, LIKE, DETERIORATE?
We have not been able to make the hot water in my mom's house work for six actual months and nobody can figure out why. Also, where does dust come from? Because it is everywhere. And there is a looming scent coming from the basement that nobody wants to talk about. Is that odor "death"?

THERE'S A LOAD OF THINGS YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU'D MISS
Every summer when I was a kid, we would fill the trunk of the car with vacation stuff and go somewhere bleakly seaside-y for a week. And every single time without fail my dad would desperately get the shits in the early morning hours before a long drive. I'll never watch my mom shouting through a bathroom door before my dad emerges—sweating and spraying Glade—ever again. I'll never have to make a pot of tea for my mother while she smokes and furiously does a crossword while my dad searches the big drawer for some Imodium. And I'll never have to walk into a bathroom full of nervous vacation diarrhea smells. It’s weird what you miss.

YOU ARE AN ADULT NOW
Despite having the face, mind, and the body of a giant, flabby-round-the-edges child, I am technically an adult. I own a house. I am the one true heir to the entire Golby bloodline. I went for two (two.) entire meetings at the bank.

"So, hold on, let me get this straight," the bank manager is saying. "Both your parents are dead?"

"Yes."

"Both?"

"Yes."

"Did they both go at once, or—?"

"No."

"It's just—and I hope you don't mind me saying—you're really young for that."

Dude, I know. Give me an savings account and shut up.

“Because, like: you’re 27.”

“I know.”

“You are younger than me.”

“Yes.”

“And I still live with my parents.”

“Hmm.”

THERE'S SOMETHING QUITE STRANGE ABOUT SLEEPING IN YOUR FAMILY HOME WHEN YOU ARE COMPLETELY ALONE
When I say "quite strange" I mean "fucking terrifying." Save one of your dad’s golf clubs. You’ll want to keep it under your bed.

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