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Over My Dead Body

The vows are clear: "till death do us part." But then what?

My husband wants my body. He wants it bad, and he wants it intact. He and I are lounging on our laundry-strewn bed, during the lull between the kids' bedtime and ours. I have no desire to get jiggy amid a pile of dirty socks, but I am feeling especially fond of my husband tonight. "We have to die simultaneously," I tell him. My husband is used to my morbidly affectionate sentiments. He sinks into a mound of dry-clean only, removes his glasses, and closes his eyes. He would rather be watching one of our neglected Netflix movies, but after seven years of marriage to a melancholic, death-obsessed wife, he has perfected the art of making the best of an evening gone maudlin. "Sounds good," he says, already starting to drool.

Recently a sleep specialist diagnosed him as having "a touch of narcolepsy," and his condition tends to flare up when I corner him on topics like death pacts. "Our girls can visit us at the family plot in High River," he says. "I'm sure there's plenty of room."

I'm not surprised that there's plenty of room at the High River Cemetery. High River is in Alberta, where the license plates should read Alberta: Plenty of Room for the Dead and the Living. I am just surprised that this is the first I've heard of my husband's plans to bury me in a prairie studded with the fossilized dung of his great-great-grandfather's long-dead cattle, the Bar U Ranch in High River. I fight the urge to yell, "Bar me!"

"I want to be cremated," I say.

My husband suddenly rises from the narcoleptic dead, gaping in horror as if I have suggested premature cremation, a la Joan of Arc. "Why?" he howls. "Why would you want that?"

Who is this gravedigger? Why does he yearn so to jump my freshly dead bones and hijack them to Canada? How we have sidestepped this marriage minefield prior to this moment is beyond my comprehension. We stare at each other across the sea of laundry, realizing that when push comes to shoving off into the afterlife, we may each be on our own.

I resist the impulse to throw a sweaty sports bra in his face. "Who wouldn't want to be cremated? I'll make a list of all the places around the globe where I'd like the girls to sprinkle me. This way they'll eventually travel if we can't afford to pay for them to study abroad."

"It's about history," he sputters. The last time I saw him this worked up was the time he discovered the dog had jet-sprayed diarrhea under his desk. "About staying together! It's about our children having one place to visit when we're dead! How else will they know we loved each other?"

I am not worried about that nor about ensuring one-stop grieving for our kids. Our daughters are smart people and will be able to follow the bread crumbs we leave behind - like the PDA in the kitchen or the horrifying items that they'll find when snooping in bedside tables. They'll remember the time they walked in on their parents, and Daddy did the stop-drop-and-roll of marital relations. Our daughters will not need a fat granite stone to remind them that their parents once loved each other.

"I want to be returned to the earth! Don't you want to become a prairie wildflower?" he pleads. I smugly break the news that today's coffins are hermetically sealed - leakproof steel capsules. He is utterly stricken. His dream is decomposing, with nothing to fertilize, and it is all my fault. I picture my lonely ashes being cast to the wind - over the Danube, across I-80 in Iowa, on top of the Icehotel in Sweden. I picture credit-card receipts of my daughters' travel expenses. I hesitate, then pat his cheek. "Maybe we could find a pine box," I say. "The girls could bury you, then sprinkle me on top of your grave."

"But I want you with me," he says, still looking worried. I hold up a zippered mesh baggie for delicates. "If they put my ashes in this and bury me next to your box," I say, "I bet I can churn out a wildflower faster than you can."

"You're on," he says. High River may be the high road, in this case.

Jennifer Mattern writes the blog Breed 'Em and Weep. E-mail comments to