Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ruminations on Death and Funerals

A few weeks ago, Carol and I attended the funeral of one of my cousins. I hadn't seen the guy in almost 20 years and we never really stayed in touch, so I greeted the initial news with that sort of "oh wow...that sucks. Death is bad", as opposed to the "Oh, cruel fate, who snatched in so untimely a manner such a noble blood relation! Oh death, where is thy sting!?" reaction.

Now, I haven't been to many funerals of late, but from the age of four to about twenty, I went to a humongous amount of them. Then things slowed down for a while, then picked up a little around the turn of the century.

But here's a list of observations about death, dying, funerals, mortality and all that. Read on.

1. First of all, let it be said that I do not fear death. As a Christian, I know where I'll end up, so I got that going for me. My whole thing is, I simply don't want to go too soon, because frankly, I don't want to miss any cool stuff happening here. And for the record, "too soon" falls under the parameter of "before 80".

2. There is one song I will NOT have at my funeral, as it now falls under the heading of "Done to death (no pun intended)": Amazing Grace. While I agree with the sentiment, it's become cliche. The only way I'd ever consent to it would be if it was performed on the bagpipes by the reanimated corpse of James Doohan, reprising his role as Scotty.

3. Speaking of songs at a funeral, definitely on the play list: For All The Saints, Onward Christian Soldiers, Story of My Life (Social Distortion), I'll Be Mellow When I'm Dead (Weird Al), The End of the Tour, Dead, and I Hope That I Get Old Before I Die (They Might Be Giants), Good Night and The Long And Winding Road (Beatles), and It's The End of the World As We Know It (R.E.M.).

4. One of the worst parts of funerals and such: Wakes. Wow. Especially popular among Old World cultures, especially Portuguese and Irish. Basically, you take time to go to a funeral home, stare at a dead body for a few minutes, then sit down and listen to people wail in sorrow. This isn't the funeral, there's no eulogy or stuff. No. This is, mill around impotently and awkwardly, stare at a corpse, and try not to entertain notions of joining the deceased by throwing oneself under the nearest speeding bus.

5. Best funeral I've ever been to? Easy. My paternal grandmother. The event wasn't called a funeral. It was called a Homegoing Service. My grandmother, a good, loving, hard-working, devout Christian woman, had a long and happy life. Although it was sad to see her go, there was also the sense of joy and triumph. Also, the funeral was in Bermuda, home of my ancestors. If your relatives have a choice as to where to die and be buried, I highly recommend Bermuda for your funerary and internment needs. Go for the funeral, stay for the lovely beaches.

6. Isn't it kind of sad when you're so disconnected from friends or family that the only time you see them is when someone dies? There's something intrinsically wrong about that.

7. And speaking about the process of getting your ticket punched for a one-way trip on the Grim Reaper Special, the best way for any of my friends and family to guarantee that they go before I do is to throw me a birthday party where the theme is "over the hill" or something along those lines. You know, black balloons, jokes about you not being as fast/strong/smart/verile/whatever, as you used to be. Stuff like that. Personally, though I recognize the value of gallows humor on occasion, and though I sometimes engage in self-deprecating humor, I find those kinds of birthday party themes to be hideously wrong and awful. Yeah. Ha ha ha..big joke. "Hey, look, dementia is setting in on you! Bwahhahaha! Good times!" "Hey look, your dick's falling off! Bwahahah!" "Yay, osteoporosis!" Pass.

8. Youngest memory of death? My mom, who died at 28 when I was 4. Breast cancer.

9. Maybe it's because of my upbringing and the way my maternal grandmother constantly hammered into my head the whole dead mom thing, coupled with my love of history....but I've always found cemeteries to be a place of peace, quiet, comfort, and enjoyment. During the advent of the Garden Cemetery movement of the 19th century, people would go to cemeteries and read, have picnics, and such. I've found cemeteries to be a lovely place to walk, go for a run, do deep thinking, and stuff.

10. Ever go to a relative's funeral and be all "I wasn't really close to this person, and now that they're dead, I find myself not really broken up about it?" Yeah. You almost feel guilty, as if you SHOULD be wailing, gnashing your teeth, and rending your garments. Then you try to think of something upsetting, like sad music, dead puppies or the success of Jersey Shore, in order to try to make yourself miserable, but it doesn't really happen.

11. One of my worst memories associated with death? Walking in on my aunt and cousin, looting my nana's jewelry box.

12. Most bizarre circumstance of death that resulted in me attending a funeral? When I was a teenager, I attended the funeral of a friend two years younger than me, who died of an accidental shotgun blast to the face. Kids, don't screw around with guns...parents, make sure your shotguns are unloaded before putting them away.