I attended another funeral last week. This one was in a modern Baptist church in Mustang, where we sat in high-backed, soft-cushioned chairs that would make air travelers and symphony-goers covetous. It was stadium seating for Jesus, and the chairs rocked to help the faithful move with the Spirit.
I am Presbyterian and feel cheated. I have spent 52 years on hard wooden pews, and at an hour a week (or 522) that’s 2,704 hours of forced alertness. Had I known about those seats earlier, I might have converted.
It was my fifth recent funeral, and while that doesn’t make me an expert, it does assure I am up to speed on all four verses of “How Great Thou Art.”
If your age division in sporting competitions is now “__-and-over,” funerals force you to start planning your own farewell. While sitting there, or on the way home, you can’t help it.
It’s starts slowly: “Gee, I like this hymn; I hope they sing it when it’s me up there.” And the next thing you know, you’re listening to the tributes with a critical ear, editing what you want said at your service and what you want left out. You find yourself balancing an appropriate number of flower arrangements with how generous your friends might be toward your favorite charity, and you begin to think that maybe a baritone would be more suitable than a soprano.
Piano or organ? Burial or cremation? Church or funeral home? Why did we stop calling them mortuaries?
Funerals are for the living; I won’t care on that particular day who sings what. But throwing a memorial service together in three days is hard, and while the distraction may help the bereft, I will leave behind some ideas for mine so the time is spent on tasks, which are easy, rather than contemplation and decision-making, which are harder. I hope the planners consider it a gift because it will ease the frustration when they contemplate the humbleness of my estate.
I will draft my own obituary so I can ensure that my last published work makes me sound just a shade better than I am. I’ll dwell on love for my children and money raised for charity, but I’ll leave out the short-tempered, sarcastic tendencies and the times I was mean. I’ll try to be a little bit funny, as was George Bruhl, who wrote in his obit that there would be no viewing because his wife of 57 years, “refuses to honor his request to have him standing in the corner of the room with a glass of Jack Daniel’s in his hand so that he would appear natural to visitors.” Good line, but I’ll take a Manhattan.
When I go, I want all usable parts given to people who can use them. I do not care what happens to the rest once it’s cremated, but I feel most at home near the ocean, so if someone wants to sail out and drop me in the water, that would be OK. Friends should tell stories that would embarrass me, save for the fact that I’m no longer capable of blushing, and if there’s a piper available who knows “Amazing Grace” (are there any who don’t?), that would be nice. After that, I hope there is a hot jazz band that can play Dixieland and swing, heavy on the sax, and lead whoever is there into a celebratory mood. I would like people to feel happy when they remember it.
There’s no point in crying over a spilled Manhattan.