Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 362 My Funeral

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

A real rocket ship carried Kay's ashes far into outer space after she died. She planned her own funeral. She had time. She was a victim of cancer. It was fast acting but not as fast as Kay when it came to planning her own trajectory.  I taught school with Kay many years ago in Alaska. She taught English so it only seamed reasonable that she write her own obituary. It was very colorful prose that drew attention to her inner thoughts and lifelong dreams; lots of poetic phrases and drama. As for me, I haven't planned a thing. Maybe I should.

Don't get me wrong. I have not had a massive heart attack or had some very somber talk from my doctor. I'm lucky to yet enjoy good health but death gains on me each day and it might not be all so silly to be prepared.

Another friend of mine died within the past year and his wife had him cremated. Cremated within the first twenty-four hours. Cremated before she contacted the children. "There was nothing they could do. He was already gone", she said. At the moment, I like this idea.

However, a funeral I attended a few years sticks in my mind as a different choice. We all have our own preferences or tastes when it comes to matters of this nature. This particular funeral was held in a church yet the deceased was not religious in any manner. But his wife was.

The service included a few christian prayers even though he was a not believer and perhaps even a pure atheist. It just didn't seem right to me. I was reminded of a line from  Nietzsche concerning his funeral wishes, "let no blasphemous prayers be uttered over my grave."

The same funeral had other features that seemed so very exactly right. He had grown up in Hawaii. His father and brothers all wore colorful Hawaiian shirts. Beautiful Hawaiian leis hung around their necks. And the music - throughout the service it was a hawaiian ukulele. When the tenor joined in towards the end with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" I'm sure there was not a dry eye in the place. It felt right. It allowed closure and yet an opening to continuation. That has to be worth something.

Where do you start when planning your own funeral? Why should you start? Funerals are for the living and perhaps the entire process should be left to them. But it does seem like some of the deceased wishes might be included. And I say might because there should be no sense of obligation on the part of the living. The deceased wishes have vanished. They no longer necessarily carry weight. That sounds hard hearted but I think it is valid.

I did come upon an exception a few years ago in New Orleans. We were on a long road trip and we had a home exchange arrangement in Algers Point just across the river from the heart of the city. The husband of the owner of our exchange had died within the last year. The local coffee shop was still telling the story of his funeral which was held before he died. They said it was a real party with lots of good food, drink, music, dancing and eulogies.  When I mentioned it to the new widow she acted just a bit sensitive concerning even questioning such practice. "He really enjoyed it', she said of the deceased. "It was the perfect thing to do".

Today I hear of people dying and memorial services planned for sometime in the future. People come together in what is called a celebration of life. That works for some. People tell stories of their relationship with the deceased. Food is consumed, wine is drank, dancing is encouraged and a good time is enjoyed by all. Encouragement is given for moving on.

Sometimes the memorial is never held. Time passes and memories fade. A small gathering might be held. A sprinkling of the ashes. A few choice words and a retreat to a good restaurant might be in order. That serves the need for closure.

One of the most beautiful endings I have attended was for my good friend Dale, who died of mesothelioma  - asbestos poisoning. He died at age 66 with lungs that just quit expanding. He lived alone and had few friends. He read books, drank coffee at a local coffee shop and pretty  much stayed to himself. He like the sounds of waves and tried to walk by the shore every day.

HIs sister from the east coast came as he neared death under hospice care. He was cremated and his sister and husband, another friend, a friends of ours, my wife and I and the Unitarian Minister gathered one gray morning at the end of a dock at the waters edge. There were just seven of us. A few words were spoken by anyone who desired. Then we each sprinkled a handful of his ashes into the bay and let them drift with the tide. My wife had brought some flowers and placed them on the water in the quiet morning air and we watched then slowly follow the ashes out to sea. It was a beautiful ending. Dale would have approved.

This is Retirement Talk.  What to do with the rest of your life.

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