Figuring out what I wanna be when I grow up.
Oop..I AM grown up...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Funerals Make Me Cranky

There is absolutely no way the title of this post isn't going to come off sounding glib, but eff it.  I've got a headache.

I went to a funeral yesterday.  A friend's father had passed away just 10 months after his mother died.  Brutal.  Absolutely brutal.  I feel just awful for him and his sister.  I have even more empathy than ever before, and as I sat there the fact that they are now parentless wasn't lost on me.  Nor was the imagined image of the two of them having to sit in a funeral home to make those last, horrid details, guided by some slick ghoul who has made a business out of (mock) soothing the bereaved and befuddled;

Yes, Mr. Smith, this is a very difficult time for you.  We understand.  *pat pat on the hand*.  We've been in this business a long time and we're here to help.  Here, let us show you some ridiculously over-priced caskets.  We KNOW that you don't want to put your loved one into something cheap and tacky...there, there, now...have a tissue.

Blech.  The death business is recession-proof, isn't it!  I hate funerals.  I'm not critical of anyone who chooses to have one.  We all have to deal with death in our own way, and I do see that they are necessary to say goodbye to someone we love who has died, and allow others to do the same.


I hate the near-choking atmosphere of sadness and loss;  the heart-breaking photo montages near the front of the room--times when the departed were so vibrant and beautiful--so beloved.  I couldn't help but think that when we die, all that is really left to represent us in any kind of tangible way is a small, select stack of photos.

Granted, I am damn cynical.  

I hate the sermons with their heart-breaking memories interspersed with typical, seemingly-soothing biblical passages that are read each time, that must bring comfort to someone, yet not to me.  Prepare a place elsewhere for my Mother all you want, but I want her here.  Then, after we all have a good cry, we go eat little triangle sandwiches with gusto, because DAMN, nothing makes you hungry like death!

....why is that?  Is it a sort of literal hunger for life?

But let me say this:  I don't hate the memories people share.  I think they're wonderful, and always interesting to hear these verbal vignettes.  They just make it even more torturous, because if I wasn't a softy before, hoo boy am I ever now.  I'm telling you--I can't take these things since my Mother died.  Okay, nobody likes a funeral.  Nobody thinks they're a GOOD TIME, so I don't expect it to be pleasant.   After all, we are the ones still here, yearning for the person who is gone.   

There's something WAY creepy about the funeral home too--all done up like someone's good living room, except there are kleenex boxes everywhere, and business cards.  Don't forget the business cards.

Maybe, before I go to the other side of the dirt, I'll plan things a little differently, if I'm lucky enough to die an old woman, as I fully intend to do.  No funeral.  No black polyester clothes and pinchy shoes.  No triangle sandwiches--no, wait--good eggsalad rocks.  Those who love me best can bury me, but have a celebration on the first, nice, sunny, warm day thereafter--in someone's back yard.  I'll choose the music.  I'll write the words.  Maybe I'll even set aside some cashola for a caterer, and maybe someone will say:

damn.  That was one hell of a party.


  1. Funerals make me cranky too. I hate them. Doesn't matter if everyone has a strong uniform faith or not, death is not the original plan and we all know it down deep in our core. I had to speak at my aunt's funeral last year and I dreaded it. I broke down in tears practicing it in front of my wife. I intentionally did not look at certain people in the eye when I gave 'some scripture reading and a few words', because I was sure I was going to lose it if I did.

    I think you see so much artificial stuff surrounding funerals, because it is an unnatural construct. There is something absurd about taking 'Sucks' and turning it into a 'Process' or 'System'. Yet, we all know we have to DO SOMETHING, so we do our funerals, parties, celebrations of life, etc.

    We are so helpless. It is only my hope that keeps me sane - that and a few key surprise moments of reassurance along the way.

  2. I have to tell you about an experience we had this past year at my grandmother's funeral. The wake and funeral were all held in her church. For the funeral part, my cousin asked if anyone wanted to get up and speak. My brother was the only one of us kids wanted to. So my other cousins get up and tell all these nice stories of my grandma teaching them how to sew and cook and garden. My brother gets up there and says "I don't know what grandma you are all talking about!" OH MY GOD, my sisters and I all looked at each other and the first thought that came to my mind was if I should get up and tackle him to keep him from talking. I did not. He continued to say that when he was about 10 years old my grandmother gave him the choir one summer, of killing the chickens to prepare for dinner. She handed him the shot gun. He said he told her he couldn't do that. So she took the shot gun from him and said she would take care of it herself. I think this story stunned the congregation, until my one cousin spoke up and said "yeah, that's grandma alright, I think dad and I counted 20 shells on the ground from when she was trying to shoot at the foxes, from getting in the hen house." Not quite the story you think about hearing at a funneral, but I know my sisters and I will forever remember that funeral. Don't even ask about the time my sisters and brother could not keep from laughing at a cousin's wake.

  3. we had my grandfather's funeral a couple months ago & for the first time, it wasn't awful. i mean, granted there were sad parts, but the whole family & so many friends remembered the good things so that it was kind of like a party. an after-party.

  4. Matt, you've put into words exactly what I was struggling to convey through emotion. Exactly...and you're right, we do these funeral things because we have to do SOMETHING. That is so astute.

    They leave me wrecked for days now.

  5. Alaina, thanks for sharing that story! I can see how it would STICK with you forever. But that should be the point right--the truth? Well, I suppose we edit the truth at times because the dead aren't there to defend themselves, but wow what a good story to tell and was it remembered fondly at all, or just told the way it was?

    Oh yeah...let's all talk about inappropriate laughter...especially around dark times like the death of a loved one. I've lived that!

  6. I wish it could be more like that more often, Sherilin. Of course, that's not always possible or even realistic, depending on the circumstances of death. If someone dies really terribly, then it's just not possible to have a big party. That's for sure.

  7. I enjoy good old cathartic laughter at funerals. I think the dead like it too.

  8. Sadly there really is no way to make them better.

  9. You got it!
    In fact, just dump me in a hole somewhere and make me part of the earth again. I won't mind at all.

  10. but Laoch, there has to be! Please refer back to my backyard partay idea ;)

  11. Mark: dump you in a hole somewhere. Hilarious. But yet, I kinda agree with you.

  12. I have alot to say on this topic! I know alot abouit funerals, planning them, attending them, hating them, loving them...blah.
    I have been to wonderful, awesome ones (it is possiable) and I have been to some really uncomfortable ones!
    I like the ones where its all about the dead person...when family and friends share alot...i am always fighting tears but its much better then having one person tell you a bunch of stuff that, at the time, you are not ready to hear.
    I spoke at a funeral was aweful....i cried the entire time....all the way through it. I even had a back up person to jump in for me if I couldnt finish...she never jumped in...apparently her and her husband thought my emotional train wreck of a tribute was darling and real. humpf. nothing like having 200 plus watching you CRY and read at the same time....

  13. Oh Steph, you captured the tortured emotion of it all so well with that image of your emotional "train wreck" speech. So true. But, it's nice that you've been to some beautiful funerals. The one I went to recently--the priest kept losing his place at the readings, and clearly knew nothing about the poor man who'd died. That kind of stuff pisses me off. Let the family tell the story about the loved one.

  14. so, Karen: why do you think the families pick pastors, etc., even when quite clearly there was no relationship or knowledge there?

    I have a close friend who is ordained and has done some funerals, usually the connection is through a close relative or with the deceased themselves. Yet, no matter how close the relationship was, God bless them for the courage to try.

    Oh, yes. About laughing at funerals. I seem to recall threatening to take your life if you didn't stop making me laugh during a certain funeral we were at many years ago. I imagined the horror of the parents if they had seen us at 19, giggling. I know it was a stress-grief-coping thing, but personal perceptions, cultural expectations, and grief often mix poorly. And this is from someone who thinks humour ALWAYS helps.

  15. This is where I'm weird. I don;t know if this is the robot part of meor the human part but funerals make me somber, quiet, reflective, and respectful. I turn off the comedy, the inappropriateness, and the sarcasm for half a day and pay my condolensces. If I get into Heaven I think this will be why (that's sarcasm, btw).

    I have had so much detah in my life, you'd think I'd be cynical or at least funnier about it all. Death doesn't scare me, personally, but I know it creeps everyone else completely out. So I just shut up and wait for the funeral to be over. The I go home and mock the hypocrites at the service.

  16. Matt, why do I think families pick pastors etc for funerals? I think tradition has a lot to do with it--it's what's "done", I also think especially in the Catholic faith, it's a must. Also, there's the aspect of usually the closest family members are too frightened/overwhelmed/emotional to want to speak themselves. Sometimes even those who are fence sitters want to have all the bases covered, as tacky as that sounds...kind of like how people who NEVER go to church, will still have their babies baptized.

    Oh Matt--I was on a ROLL with the jokes at Dan's "viewing". My god--it was terrible, but I couldn't stop. I still remember one of the horrendous jokes I made that had you and I in TEARS, and my mother slightly shocked. C'est la vie.

  17. hypocrites indeed, Lance! I found my grandmother's funeral extremely relaxing. It was a Catholic funeral, and completely detached from any personal reflection on my Grandmother, which is sad, but it was oddly comforting in a way.

    I have a monstrous, suffocating fear of death, which was not at all lessened through watching my mother die. Shudder. I envy those who don't fear death--I really do.


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