“Slowly I Turned”: Directing My Own Funeral
Any time I deal with people, I find that an event that normally would have nothing whatsoever to do with me suddenly takes over my life. I suppose that’s why I don’t like dealing extensively with people. My routine this week got overthrown by an unexpected event of the previous week. One of my coworkers suffered a bereavement—her father died. I myself never met the man. If I didn’t work in the same office as his daughter, I would never have known his name or anything about him.
It’s an interesting experience, attending the funeral of someone you don’t know. Apart from the natural tendency to choke up at the sight of others’ grief, there’s no involvement in the emotional currents and undercurrents of the hour. It wasn’t a bad funeral, as they go, but I thought it was a little thin. Possibly it suited the man being remembered—I don’t really know. But it started me thinking, which is often a dangerous thing. Still, “it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2, ESV). I expect that’s why some people are so reluctant about funerals. Considering one’s own mortality isn’t exactly the most popular pastime.
I don’t mind it so much. For one thing, since I live in the assurance of the resurrection, it doesn’t frighten me as much as it might. Mind you, there were some things about this particular funeral that I found plenty disturbing when I thought of them happening at my funeral. So I decided to lay down a few ground rules for when that day comes.
Firstly: anybody who shows up to my funeral wearing all black had better be in full formalwear and prepared to present a musical/dance number. I mean it. I know it’s traditional, and I know it’s supposed to show respect for grief, but honestly—I had my “black” period, and I’m over it. (Sure enough, as soon as I write that, I realize that I’m wearing a long-sleeved black t-shirt, charcoal gray yoga pants, and a black zip-up hoodie. Whoops. But my socks are fuzzy and bright purple, so there.) I fully believe that those of us in Christ who suffer the loss of a loved one should not grieve as others do, who have no hope (see 1 Thess. 4:13ff). There had better be plenty of color at my funeral. Otherwise, first thing I’ll do at the resurrection is find every single member of that crowd and give each a swift kick in the tukkis. Yes, I hope that I will be missed, but not so much that the color leaches out of my memory.
That brings me to a second point. There had better be a fair amount of giggling going on at my funeral. I enjoy a good laugh. Every funny, embarrassing story you ever knew about me is fair game. That’s just what my life has been like: always leaning toward the absurd. Think about it. What else would you call it when someone born cheerful ends up with depression? A top student working a string of low-wage, low-respect jobs just because she happened to be born a writer instead of something more employable? Something is seriously wrong if my funeral doesn’t have at least a few participants laughing into their Kleenex.
(Oh, yeah. By the way, I like to be prepared for any eventuality, especially the really obvious ones, so please make sure there is a box of tissues available to each pew. Not the kind with lotion in them—they smear your glasses when you try to wipe off the mist of eyelash-spatter after you’ve been crying. And not the cheap ones that double as extra-fine sandpaper. That’s just mean.)
What else? No organist leaning so hard on the hymns that they (hymns, not organist) start to bulge at the edges. To be honest, I’d prefer a full worship set to get people warmed up for the story-telling. I once mentioned to my sister that I’d like “Revive Us Again” played at my funeral, just to see how many people caught the joke. I won’t hold anyone to that, but I do insist on songs about eternal life, not about loss. “A New Name In Glory” wouldn’t be a bad choice, as long as it’s played at a decent tempo. Fortunately, at my church nearly all our pianists tend to play songs too fast, so I don’t think I’ve got much to worry about there. (Let her rip, ladies. No holds barred.)
Absolutely, positively, no creepy saccharine poetry about me always being all around you after I’m gone. On the issue of embalming versus cremation, I want neither to be laid out like a tray of cold cuts nor to be stood in a pseudo-Grecian pot on somebody’s mantle, but above all I have no intention of being vaporized. I intend to have a specific location, thank you, after death as well as beforehand. If afterward I happen to venture somewhere near you, you’ll know it. Believe me, you’ll know. (In other words, you’d better hope that that specific location is a plot of ground in some out-of-the-way corner of a garden somewhere. I’d hate to think what I might get up to if God let me wander around just for the fun of it.) I don’t know that I have much to fear in terms of poetry, though, because anyone who knows me well enough to contribute to my funeral service HAD BETTER KNOW ME WELL ENOUGH TO KNOW WHAT DOESN’T SUIT ME. (Ahem.) But I digress.
A curious thought just came to me. “Slowly I Turned” is about things that hinder me as a writer, right? Of all the topics I’ve discussed, however, this is one that doesn’t really hinder me at all. I don’t just mean that it’s conducive for me, though it is. I can always think of something to say about my own demise. But this is one of the really breathtaking (yes, and daunting) aspects of being a writer. It doesn’t matter if I am no longer here; if you are reading this, then somewhere in the world I have left a part of myself. Death is no great hindrance to a good writer, apart from the trifling difficulty of finding new works by him or her. The impact remains, though the hand that struck the blow will never be lifted for another in this world. I think that’s magnificent. How many vocations can say that? Not sure I can live up to it, but I do my best.