Who puts the fun back in funerals, Gentle Reader? My family.
I’ve had to attend a *lot* of funerals over the last few years. I’ve planned, run, and organized a fair few, too, not to mention memorials and wakes. At a certain age, that isn’t so unusual, but I’m thirty years shy of what I’d consider the usual funeral crowd. No worries, though – in many cases, I believe death to be a mercy. It’s the living that we cry for.
The first funeral I ever went to was my brother’s. He’d died of heart failure, down in Oregon. I was in high school, and “living” at a friend’s parent’s house, as I’d had an argument with my parents a week or so prior – I had been arrested, and they weren’t too thrilled about it, for some reason. My sister called from his side, hours before he passed – ten o’clock on a Wednesday, or something equally impossible. Even if my folks had left the minute she called, he would have been dead before they made it there. They chose to wait until the next day, and collect me. She never forgave any of us.
At the funeral, we were able to see several aspects of Doug’s life that we weren’t privy to – he had a number of pals from when he’d race BMX bikes, apparently. A bunch of the lads from the company he worked for had hilarious stories to share. There was some good-natured verbal sparring between my brother’s stepfather and my mother, about whether their spouses should talk, reconcile, over their son’s death, or remain on non-speaking terms. It was… It was my first.
My grandmother passed away the day I came home from Alaska – I’d been working in a cannery, as one does, grading and weighing black cod roe. The season had ended a few weeks earlier than expected, and I elected to ship out for home, not telling the family, for a surprise. The minute I walked in the door, my father – who was still able to leave his bed, at this point, ushered me to the car. I was able to say goodbye to Grandma. She died that night. Grandma didn’t have a proper funeral – she didn’t want one. We gathered together at the family compound, on the lake, and wrote her letters, which we inserted into helium balloons, and released to the heavens. Not very environmentally friendly, but it was beautiful.
These days, when I want to communicate with the dead, I either burn the letter, or put it into a bottle and cast it into the sea.
I used to co-chair an organization called the F.P.A., or Fabulous Party Association – we’d throw themed balls twice yearly. When my father crossed over, we were planning La Fete Sanguinaire – a vampire themed ball. That was why, as I attempted to explain to paramedics, firemen, coroner, and police, I had a coffin on the back porch. The actual death was ruled from natural consequences, luckily.
Dad’s was the first funeral I had a hand in planning, and though I say it myself, it was the loveliest funeral I’ve had the honour of attending. That is to say, what I remember of it – grief has a way of blurring the details. My ex-husband reappeared in my life, yet again, that day. After the service itself, Miss K, Ex-husband, and his roommate, RR, made sure that Ma and I made it home. Ma wanted to be alone and cry; I wanted to drown in several gallons of alcohol. They took me out to a cowboy bar in Bremerton, where we held an impromptu wake – which was absolutely fitting for my Dad. We were joined by several of my closest friends, despite the distance. After the bartender gave me something called the “Three Wise Men” for free (A triple shot of Jack Daniels, Jose Cuervo, and Jim Beam), and several sympathy libations, I ended up on a mechanical bull. Dad would’ve been proud.
The year Dad died, we lost six other family members. You’ll forgive me if they all started blurring together, at that point. That’s how our rapidly diminishing family designated a specific after-funeral bar for such occasions – we, none of us, go there, for any other reason. It helps quite a lot, for those who have trouble sharing memories in front of others, or speaking in front of a crowd. We all huddle around the banquet table, drinking whatever the deceased like best – that’s how I tried Laphroaig, for the first time. There are tears, of course, but it’s much more about the celebration of memories.
I’d detail more of the funerals I’ve been through, and how I enjoy them, but I’m sure I’ve gone on enough. My Uncle George’s service is this Saturday, at Fort Warren, in Port Townsend. I’m sure I’ll have some stories to share, when I return.