When I had children, I took a very “what will be, will be” attitude. I didn’t feel the need to KNOW and PLAN everything. I didn’t learn the gender before birth. What’s the rush? I’ll find out in nine months! I didn’t get any kind of genetic testing, or even routine tests for common abnormalities. Children are a gift and I will accept whatever comes along with it. No ultrasound; I took the position that I am not meant to have a picture of my unborn baby, otherwise my stomach would have a window. “You’re huge; is it twins?” “Don’t know.” When the second baby was “late” it never occurred to me to induce labor [had a home birth anyway] because “the baby will get here someday; guess it’s not today.” Birth and life were not mine to control. But death…
Most of us have probably thought out some aspects of our own funerals. Burial vs cremation. How much money you think is enough or too much to spend. Casket choices, cemetery plots. Some of us might even have a playlist, which inevitably includes “Amazing Grace.”
“He loved Amazing Grace…”
Did he? Did your father really love Amazing Grace, or do you just think it should be played because it’s a funeral? Either way, we have about a hundred and twelve versions in our music library, and I’m sick of them all.
And some of us go into way too much detail, planning every stage of an event that we will not get to enjoy. We won’t be there approving of the outfit that was chosen for us, or admiring the pink velvet interior (hint hint) in the casket. We won’t be listening to “Highway to Hell” as the hearse rolls away. The funeral is for the living.
It is for this reason I don’t have a playlist. I used to. I was named after the Ray Peterson song “Corinna, Corinna.” Sure to be a tear-jerker if the casket is closing to the lyrics, “If you see Corinna/send her home to me.” I wanted the song “My Funeral” by the band Dope to be playing as the guest/s walked in. “It’s my funeral/welcome you all/this is the end of the line/so thank you for coming along…” Actually, I should post a Youtube video, because all the lyrics are just too meaningful.
But these are songs meaningful mainly to me. They are my workout songs, my driving songs, my house-cleaning songs. They may not be meaningful to the funeral attendees.
I want to be buried in my embalming gear; my gown and gloves, anyway. DO NOT hide my (hopefully restored) face. I want a hairdresser. I spent a lot of money on my hair during my life. I have my choices of embalmers – James, Steve, Mr. Brinkley, the embalming college. These people must not die before me.
I am terrified of being autopsied. I may have to move to my home state where autopsies are far less common; seems where I live now, the reason for an autopsy is “death.”
I don’t want to be cremated. I bought a cemetery plot. I don’t want it going to waste. [Though I have reached out to families in my home state and offered to donate it to those who might need it before I do.]
The underlying theme – what I really want – is absolute control over a situation. Maybe I felt I couldn’t control some aspect of my life and that by controlling my death and its rituals, I…sort of won? Perhaps I also want people to silently congratulate me for the well-coordinated event. She is dead…but she did a wonderful job with it! Look at the lilacs!
What if my family would not feel comforted seeing me in full protective gear, with bottles of embalming fluid displayed in the casket? Maybe they would like to see me wearing something that reminds them of the life I had with them. Maybe they want to display photos and stuffed animals, like most families. Maybe they can’t afford the Batesville Cameo Rose.
I would hope that any family wouldn’t choose a service that directly disrespected the decedent’s wishes; as a funeral director I would refuse to serve that family. (And I have. Even as a student. I didn’t charge them anything and I helped them find another funeral home.) It is never acceptable to cremate a person whose religion forbids it, or to bury a person who prepaid and expressed a desire for her own cremation. But for the little details of the service – flowers, music, clothing – sometimes you just have to let it go. Maybe your mom will just run into your room and grab the first thing she can find, and it’s jeans. Maybe no one will play any music. Let it go – you’ll be dead! It doesn’t matter.
I want the little vial of my brother’s cremated remains with me, along with the shreds of his clothing, his blanket, his jacket, the photo albums…but if this does not happen, at least I will have had those things within reach when I was alive. They will not comfort me in death.
I could be blown to bits and leave nothing behind for which to have a funeral. I could perhaps not be found for over a year and won’t be able to have a viewing. I could be unclaimed and then cremated by the state. All of this is very disturbing to me because it isn’t what I have planned out. But for many people, it is a reality, and I need to be okay with the possibility of it happening to me.
And I’ll be fine with it! I’ll be dead! Go ahead and put me in some red dress that will clash with the PINK VELVET INTERIOR…it won’t matter!
For those who agonize over every detail of their own service, that time and energy could be of better use planning things that you will get to enjoy in life. If you love your funeral playlist so much, why not listen to it now? Why not plan a playlist for a dying relative whose funeral you want to be involved in? Or put together some songs that remind you of people you love who are not dying?
One family honored their son’s wishes and it didn’t comfort them. He wanted a photo of him flipping people off displayed on his headstone. The cemetery decided to approve it and the family followed through because “it was what he wanted.” But after the funeral, they never again visited his grave. The image did not create a place of comfort and meaning for them. This was a case where the family should have gone with their own wishes instead of their son’s. Maybe place that photo in his pocket and choose their own headstone.
I have a big funeral this evening, one for which I can and will obsessively plan every detail along with the family, the way I do. Mine will have to fall to someone else.