It’s become a staple of every sitcom. When our young, female lead finally gets engaged, she begins planning her dream wedding. I don’t know if this is true of all young women, but on the sitcoms, the wedding is something she’s been planning since she was 6. It generally involves horse-drawn carriages, a legion of bridesmaids, and, of course, Prince Charming as the groom. I have been going through something similar in my life. I have been planning it in my mind and organizing it for a long time. Not my wedding. Ever since I learned that I was going to die someday, I’ve been planning my funeral. Like little girls planning their weddings, I currently want it to be a grand affair. There will be legions of bereaved, all gathered to mourn the loss of this, one of the greatest people they’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. You might think, then, that I look forward to funerals with a certain morbid glee. You might think I look upon them as places of research and gathering to add to my own dream funeral. Well, not the most recent one I went to.
Recently, my next door neighbor died. Throughout the past 6 years or so, my family had taken it upon ourselves to be her caretakers. We’d look after her place, doing things like cutting the grass and shoveling the walk. When we knew that she could no longer look after herself, we worked with her family on getting her into a nursing home. With her family being from Ottawa, we looked after her financial affairs while she was in the home, and continued tending to her property. Last time her family was out three years ago, they felt it best that a proper will be written up. My father was deeply involved in the process, and approached me about being a pallbearer. Not being able to see so far into the future, I agreed. So, when our neighbor died about a week ago, a flash of fear went through me. I knew we’d be having the funeral soon, and I only had one day off in the days ahead: Thursday. I was really looking forward to finally seeing Tomb Raider. As my father and her family began discussing the best day to hold the funeral, I listened at the door with anticipation. I kept repeating one silent prayer over and over. “Please don’t say Thursday. Please don’t say Thursday.” And that’s when I heard those dreaded words. “So, it’s agreed then. The best day to have this is Thursday.” Death had screwed me out of my day off.
Thursday morning came, and I was still more upset about missing Tomb Raider than laying my next door neighbor to rest. The family of the deceased was gathering at our home. We were to be hosting the fellowship after the services. My brother, also asked to be a pallbearer three years ago, was soon arrived with his wife and kids in tow. I mingled as best I could, and then I knew I had to get into my formal clothes. I retreated to my inner sanctum and dug out my suit. I hadn’t worn it since my sister’s high school graduation two years ago, so I was a little worried as to whether it would fit or not. To my surprise, it actually fit better than it did two years ago. When it comes to formal wear, what always sets off a suit is a tie. I went through my small collection of ties, trying to figure out which one would be the best to wear. I ultimately decided to go with my black bow tie, just because they don’t let me at work and I was going to have some fun with my day off. I finished putting together my outfit and checked myself out in the mirror. And, if I may say so, I clean up good.
From there, it was down to the community hall to begin setting up. We arrived before the funeral director, so first we had to spend some time waiting in the van. The hearse finally pulled up, and we were given our instructions. The instructions for a pallbearer are rather simple: grab a handle and lift. I grabbed and lifted. We brought her inside, and set her down on the stand that was set up. My brother, father and I grouped up as the director told us that she’d be set up shortly if we wanted to pay our final respects. As my brother and father started talking about what they always talk about, I wandered off to take a look at the body. It’s always unsettling looking at the body. Here’s this body, once full of life and vibrancy, now in eternal slumber. The questions started pouring in. Where is she now? Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Was she going up or going down? What does happen next? We’ll all find out eventually. We all headed back up the house. We had an hour to kill before the service began.
And hour later, we all started arriving with the various obscure members of her family that had come out for this. Still, though, it was a small funeral. As with all things, I had good seats. Right up front. The service began, and the minister started quoting passages from the Bible. As has been ingrained in my mind since the age of six, Bible passages are a signal to start tuning out. I was soon brought back by the first song that the deceased had wanted played: Peace in the Valley. By Elvis Presley. I’m sorry, but Elvis just doesn’t work for a funeral. Yes, it’s a hymn, but Elvis? It was an unorthodox choice. Now that I was back in the real world, I started listening to the minister’s words. It all soon got the better of me, and I felt the tears welling up. It wasn’t enough to cry, but the emotion was there. In my own, weird little way, I’m going to miss her. Soon, it was time to head out to the graveyard. More heavy lifting for me.
Spirits were high in my brother’s minivan. As we all drove out there, we talked about the family that had shown up and how some had gotten really fat and others really skinny. We criticized the driving of the other mourners and made really bad jokes. My family has a really weird way of mourning. Soon, we were out at the graveyard and it was time for the last little bit of heavy lifting. We all grabbed and lifted, and soon the casket was suspended in mid-air over its future eternal resting place. The last words were spoken by the minister, and then, it was over. She was literally dead and buried. It was time to head back to the house.
When we got back home, my mother had a special task for my brother and I. We were to head back to the community hall and collect all the flowers that had been donated. My brother and I got back into his minivan and proceeded down the street. My brother hit play on his van’s CD player, and we were soon listing to that rock classic You Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC. My warped sense of humour kicked in. I turned to my brother and asked one simple question. “Do you have any funeral appropriate songs on that disc?” My brother, operating on a similar wavelength, smiled, and hit a few buttons on his CD player. When we arrived at the community hall, we were both singing along, loudly and badly, to AC/DC. “HIIIIIIIIIIGHWAY TO HELL! HIIIIIIIIIIGHWAY TO HELL!” Finally, my sense of good taste kicked in, and we shut off the song.
But why must there be good taste? I do know this about my funeral. I want it to be fun. The song I want played is Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life by Monty Python. It’s OK to make plans like this, but soon a reality sets in. This is death. It’s the end. No one knows what happens next, if something happens next. I, personally, have always believed that something happens next. As a wise man once said, “There can be no happy endings for nothing truly ends.” That’s why my funeral’s not going to be depressing. Nothing ended. A new chapter will have begun, just as it has begun for my next door neighbor. It’s good to have a plan in place, but I don’t want to see it come to fruition just yet. God willing, I will find out what happens next in 70 years or so, with my wife among the grieving. I’ll worry about the funeral, as I’m sure she (whoever she may be) already has our wedding planned.