Originally posted at TheIlluminatedLife.com.
I went to a memorial service this weekend and it got me to thinking about how much I dislike traditional funerals and memorial services. This one was quite nice, actually, although two hours is a bit long to sit in multi-purpose room chairs. But the venue was lovely, with lots of windows to look out onto green growing things in all directions. I like being surrounded by abundant life while celebrating the life of someone who is no longer with us. It feels much more healing and organic than being lined up in rows, sitting on hard seats, cut off from the world around us.
As I drove home, I decided that I should let the people who care about me know what I would like, should they feel compelled to gather and mark my passing with some sort of shindig. So of course I decide to do this as a blog post. It somehow feels less threatening and more generic that way, whereas sending this to everyone in a personal letter might feel like I expect to go any day now (I really don’t).
I know that whatever form of ritual is used to honor the deceased is really designed for the living and not the dead, but I would like to think the wishes of the dearly departed matter to someone. I fully expect to die after some of you and before others, so at least one of you reading this should still be breathing after I no longer am. That being said, here are my thoughts:
1. If you do feel compelled to gather, do not call it a funeral or a memorial service. I suppose I could live with (wink) calling it a celebration of life, but I know so many creative people that I would hope you could come up with something a little more festive.
2. Weather permitting, gather outside. Do not cut yourselves off from the living world to honor my life. That just feels wrong. If the weather sucks, gather someplace fun, like a museum or an indoor labyrinth or a roller skating rink. Again, be creative, but don’t create a burden for yourselves. That would make me very unhappy.
3. No organ music. Well, there are two, and ONLY two exceptions to this request. If you hold the party in a roller skating rink, then organ music would be not only acceptable but appropriate (keep it light – no heavy dirge-y kind of music). The other exception would be if some enterprising organist out there gets the urge to play “In The Garden of Eden,” by I. Ron Butterfly, in which case you should all flick your Bic at the end.
4. No straight lines. Holy Hera, how I hate straight lines. You know me, I like curvy, flowy kinds of things. So no pews, no chairs lined up, NO STRAIGHT LINES. Sit in a circle so no one has to stand up and walk to the front in order to share whatever story they want to share. I fully expect to die an old woman, which means my friends will all be old (and, not surprisingly, mostly women), and I don’t want anyone to break a hip walking up to a podium. By the way, the age of the probable participants should also be taken into consideration if you want to hold the party at a roller rink. I’m just sayin’.
5. Play music people can sing to and, if they are able, dance to. Bring drums and tambourines and maracas and let it all out. Play “Dust in the Wind,” by Kansas. Black should only be worn if it makes you look smokin’ hot, in which case, do it up right. Otherwise, wear vibrant colors, hats and jewelry, sandals and flip-flips, or whatever else you feel most yourself in. Don’t worry about what other people will think about your attire. This is a party, remember? Come as you really are.
6. Skip the biography. You know how at traditional funerals, there is the biography, the music, the tearful poetry and then everyone adjourns to someone’s house where they tell the fun stories, they laugh and cry and relate to each other as human beings who are connected by the deceased? Well, skip the first part and go straight to the laughter and the stories. Nobody cares where I was born, only that I was. Bring your favorite photo and tell the story of that photo, as that is much more interesting that the fact that I went to an elementary school that no longer exists.
7. Do not put yourself out. It would annoy me to no end to think that my friends did something that they felt compelled to do (out of tradition or social pressure) or something that put an undue burden on them, simply to mark my passing. If cooking helps you deal with loss, go for it. If organizing a party helps you feel closer to me, groovy. But screw tradition and tell social norms to take a hike, okay?
8. If I die before the majority of my friends, I’ve decided that there should be no single party, but rather a round-robin type celebration. I’m going to be cremated, so anyone who wants/needs to see the urn can let my husband (or my executor) know, and the ashes will be sent from one group to another. Let the Tucson people gather in Tucson, let my friend in NY do what she needs to do without traveling across country, etc. If you don’t want or need to see the urn, that’s fine by me. But don’t expect my grieving spouse to put together any kind of gathering. That is simply not going to happen. He also won’t want anyone to come visit, as he will not be in a good space for entertaining. Send him a card, let him know you are thinking of him, but don’t come up here unless he asks. I’m serious (and this includes you, mom). Do not poke the bear, you won’t like it. If you think I hate funerals, you should talk to him about them some day.
9. The main thing is this: if you care about me and want to do something to honor my life and our connection, then just be the best, truest, most authentic you that you can be. Today, tomorrow, before I die, and after. Nothing would make me happier, and it’s all I ever want for, or from, any of you.