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Talking death over breakfast with my mother

Diamonds are forever

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"Why wouldn't you want to make me into a diamond and wear me?" my mom asked.

The very thought made my stomach lurch, but I calmly sipped my coffee, trying to gauge if she was offended, hurt or both. Maybe she was kidding? It had been a weird breakfast so far. She was shoving her iPad between my face and my omelette so I could see a website called LifeGem.com, where you learn how an "authentic" diamond can be created from your deceased loved one's ashes. I chewed on that idea — anything but the omelette — while my mom ran through some other provisions from her will.

O, death! Nothing like death to remind you that you haven't done all of the things you wanted to do, like climb Machu Picchu, or witness a stranger legitimately slip on a banana peel, or skydive, or attend a party that gets so out of control that somebody actually puts a lampshade on his head and dances around the room. I don't really fear my own demise — apart from running out of time to see things like a banana wipeout or a lampshade dance — but I'm absolutely terrified of losing my loved ones.

Regarding my mom and stepdad's will, I wasn't concerned about which kid or stepkid got whatever possessions. And as for my mother's personal quest to transform into postmortem bling, I don't really get it. But I've never been into diamonds much. I'd rarely worn my engagement ring, because it gave me a rash on my finger, so it wasn't hard to part with that when I got divorced. I'm happy to let my older sister take most of my mother's jewelry, except for one thing: the diamond that belonged to her grandmother, whom she'd adored. If I wore it, maybe it would always make me feel close to my mom, no matter what.

The sheer ridiculousness of the ash diamond subsiding, I blinked back tears and tried to finish my breakfast while my mom talked about obituaries and dividing assets. Like most kids, I don't want to think about my parents dying. I'm used to talking to my mom whenever I want, and I don't talk to my dad enough. I don't see either of them enough. What am I supposed to do when they're gone?

"And when I scattered my dad's ashes on the golf course, it was windy, and some of it blew in my mouth," my mom said, laughing. Another stomach-churning thought.

I was able to hold it together while my mom cheerfully displayed photographs from her "death file," a massive folder of legal documents and pictures. The death file was full of life: a picture of her fending off handsy frat boys while balancing a giant blue drink called a "shark bowl," snapped while visiting me at college; photographs of her with my sister's two kids; several shots of her and my stepdad on the beach in Mexico; an old black-and-white photo of her as a toddler.

"These were the times I had the most fun," she explained.

I felt like I was going to burst into laughter, tears or both. But I held it in. Also, she wasn't finished talking about jewelry. She led me to the jewelry box in her bedroom, where I found many of the same pieces I'd played with as a child. Apart from her grandmother's diamond, there was only one other thing that I wanted. Something I'd never even seen her wear. It was a simple locket that held two photos: one of my dad and one of my sister as an infant. I remembered when I first saw this locket more than three decades ago; I felt totally left out because I wasn't in it (the fact that I did not yet exist when she received the locket was lost on toddler logic).

As we walked back to her kitchen, I offered an alternative final destination for her ashes.

"How about I travel around the world," I told her, "and I'll take your ashes and leave some in every country I visit. How about that?"

"You could write a book about it!" she responded.

I had to smile. No matter how old I get, my mom's relentless support of whatever I'm pursuing at the time never wavers.

"But if I were you, I'd still pick the diamond," she said, stuffing legal documents and death-file photos back into the folder.

With the death talk safely behind us, I got in my car and headed home. I did take the locket, though. I rarely wear it, instead opting for a chain that holds a collection of charms I bought when I backpacked across Europe. But the locket makes me feel closer to my family. All of them.

Maybe I will save some of those ashes for a diamond after all. Besides, if I don't honor my mother's last wish, she'll probably haunt me.

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