Fall 2001.

Your Last Wish

by Mary Panza

The strangest I have ever seen? Let's see, After a while the strange is the norm. I'll give you this much; it is an odd business for a woman. It has, in a funny way, saved my life. I workout, I watch my diet, I speak to family and friends all the time. I smile more. Oh yeah, I smile all the time. The bad part is burying people you know. Actually, putting them in the ground is the easy part; the after party is the real work.

I work closely with funeral directors and cemeteries. I am the one who sprinkles the ashes in discos, restaurants, the homes of ex-spouses, that sort of thing. Really that is why I got a pilot's license-to carry out the final party wishes of the deceased. I have a signed contract; I work with lawyers, most of the time the last parting shots or events are legal. Sometimes we run into gray areas. Everything is in writing but where I come from, my work is the contract. People pay in advance for their last wishes. What kind of business would it be if I didn't please the customer?

I am sorry, I got lost in my sales pitch. The strangest thing, hmm, can we go to the next question? I want you to tell a good story, which is why they call it a feature. People deserve to know about death. Maybe it could change their opinions about life.

OK, how did I get started? Well, it was about ten years ago...What? Honey, never ask a woman her age. Anyway, I was going through a really hard time. I just got married, I wasn't sure if that was the right decision. I was hanging around with a bunch of people who were fun but not much in the way of substance. I know I sound like snob but it is the truth. I almost lost everyone and everything. I was void of conscience and clarity. I used to like taking pills. I took them all the time. I loved them. Then one day I looked in the mirror. The thing that saved me wasn't anything more than my own vanity. I got sick of looking and feeling like crap. So I get myself off the pills and then I get my marriage straight and then I have to figure out what the hell to do with the rest of my life. I was a bartender at the time but let me tell you what, that profession was not helping my looks either. My life up to that point was nothing more than letting things happen to me. I had never made a well thought out decision. Except my husband and him staying with me was the Hand of God. Trust me.

Around that time I was going to a lot of funerals. All the drug activity was killing people around me left and right. Friends of my mother were going. Thank God I still have her with me. I kept hearing this sound around me and I had never heard it before. It was grief. Grief is an audible, tangible, element. It is like air or water. You can hear a heart break. Worst sound in the world. I heard it everywhere. I was worn down by all the grief. I also didn't have the pills to buffer it. What a way to spend your first few months of sobriety. I needed to make my peace with it.

What better way than to face it head-on and besides, I went to eighteen funerals and grief buffets that year. Do you know how many cold cut platters that is? Too friggin' many in my book. The drinks were watered down, the music was bad. I really just became a party planner only, like, for dead people.

Cost? Plenty! You want to go out with a bang; I am your girl. I get a lot of terminally ill; people who are living fast, older folks, or people that just want to get the last word. Lots of those. The great thing is that I have so many connections that I can bump weddings to get the room to fulfill your final wish. Death is the new party. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Every detail is the way we discussed right down to the facial tissue.

If you were not very well liked, I hire professional chair sitters. I stole that idea from the Academy Awards. I can fill the church with out of work actors and musicians so fast your head would spin. For a small fee, I have whole network of old women to show up and cry. Not just cry, wail. I stole that idea from my mother; I also employ her. Oh, yeah, in this town, the out of work, starving-for-my-art crowd is big into this. I once hired this Pamela Anderson type-remember her-to show up at this man's wake. He was a nice man, divorced, a couple of kids. I guess the ex-wife had moved her lover into the house about two hours after she threw him out. Still pissed him off. So he finds out he is in the last stages of stomach cancer and needs to plan. I usually do the after party, so I had to work closely with the funeral home guys on this one. Yes, they have a very sick sense of humor so this was right up their alley. I also had to use my bar connections to get bouncers. Don't look so confused, honey, I am getting to the good stuff. The ex-wife shows up to support her kids and show-off her young lover. So, according to plan, I give the signal and she--with tears in her eyes, 38D's on her chest and a special dress the man had picked out even before I hire this girl--goes throwing herself on the body and says' I can't live without you and your big dick. Don't go, don't go.' Yadda yadda that kind of thing. Apparently he did have a big dick because the ex- gets pissed and goes after the actress. That is where the bouncers come in. This man's last request was that during his wake, a hockey game should break out. I swear that in the midst of this fight, I could see him at the door, looking at me. He winked, turned and was gone.

That story is just an example of the services I provide. YOUR LAST WISH is a business that has taught me much. The strangest thing I have ever seen? Probably it was the Cuba Libre funeral. That wasn't her name, that is how she died. She was telling someone off and choked on the lime in her rum and coke. All of a sudden, in this room full of people she thought were her friends, no one knows the Heimlich maneuver. She dies. It was her last wish, arranged with me years prior, that there be an invitation-only party for her enemies. I don't get it, but let me tell you, by the time I got everyone on her list (which she updated monthly), I almost had to rent a stadium. It almost tripled the original cost. I felt awful billing her husband but he was more than willing to pay and show up with a date.

Death is not the end for some people. Just a way of getting the last word in. Like I said before, I get a lot of that.

MARY PANZA wants to know what your last wish is.