I attended the funeral of dear relative a few weeks ago.  It combined her wishes and the needs of the mourners in an interesting way.  It had sermons, music, and an interpretive dance as well as the standard funeral trappings. It got me thinking about my own funeral.  Now I have no reason to think that it will be anytime in the near future but it is inevitable so I guess I should be prepared. Some may think the thought morbid but I don’t. I know that there is no guarantee that one’s wishes will be carried out once one no longer has any say in the matter.  My father always said that he want the $200 GI special funeral with as little cost and fuss as was possible.  Inflation and my mother made that impossible. She insisted on a “dignified” ceremony.  When she passed I tried to make sure she had the funeral that she wanted and accepted plenty of help from those who mourned her.

So for what it’s worth here are the things I would want.  First of all I do not want my corpse to be the centerpiece for any ritual.  I have always found that ghoulish especially with all those people who say “he looks good.” I don’t think looking dead looks “good.”.  If I have to be there at all just have my ashes in an urn or better yet just display a nice picture. As the opening music I want Bill Evans playing “My Foolish Heart.”Upload My Foolish Heart Album Version.  After that I want some honorary pallbearers to come up front and do some of that old Motown choreography like the Temptations or the Pips.  Okay, okay no dancing pallbearers but could at least some of the people who come up to speak about me do a dance step or at least one of those Monty Python silly walks. Why? Well because the real me will be in that step, the one who looked at life with a twinkle in his eye, who punctured earnestness and solemnity and ceremony. If not at the funeral or memorial service please do so at some other occasion. That is the me I want remembered.

As a eulogy I would want this by Sweet Honey In the Rock:  1-01 Ella’s Song. I went to college during the turbulent sixties from 1967 to 1971.  In those days naive “us” thought the “revolution” in thought, circumstances, morals and values was just around the corner. Once it became clear that the “revolution” not only would not be televised but was actually generations away, I decided my best course of action was to help others learn what I had learned about the world.  So I went into college teaching and history writing. My only hope is that I opened up a few minds along the way and better prepared some to deal with the world we are leaving behind. I hope that they pass that message on to their children and students.

Finally this is the music I want as a recessional. There were many occasions after a particularly difficult day when I was depressed and down that I had to remind myself that humans could create beauty as well as ugliness.  After walking in the shanty towns in South Africa, after watching the twin towers fall, after the MLK and RFK assassinations or just when dealing with assholes all day (and now the Boston Marathon bombings) , I would play John Coltrane’s version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.” Lush Life abridged_01. Amazingly it was written by Strayhorn as a gay teenager in a small town dreaming of a sophisticated world that he would one day inhabit. It is a song fundamentally of hope.

I remember during my wife’s doctoral training in social work a teacher in a course on end of life issues taught the class to ask “Okay what do you want to do once you are dead?” In other words how do you want your memory to affect those who remember you? Funerals are of course for the living; the dead are beyond caring.  Whatever people want to do is fine with me (including taking little notice of my passing) as it was with the relative whose funeral started my train of thought in this direction. I also think a funeral should present the deceased in the way the want to be remembered. There were of course many versions of me in all the personas one assumes during life. Students may see you in one way, colleagues in another, civilians to the academic world in yet another.  Time also changes those personas and those perceptions. No one ceremony can capture the complexities of a human being and I don’t expect my funeral to be any different.  I am however comfortable with the presentation of this “me”. Think about what “you” you would be comfortable presenting.

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