Recently, I said to my wife, “If I die before you, please don’t have my funeral in a megachurch. I might have to come back and haunt you for that.”
Inspired by a funeral pageant on television, I’d made the mistake of imagining my own taking place with smoke machines, jumbotrons, and an army of bagpipers playing “Amazing Grace.” If you’ve never been in a megachurch, they’re likely to have all those things, especially in the case of a funeral.
To be honest, I’m not especially worried about my funeral turning into an over-the-top, kitschy extravaganza. My wife and I are both notoriously low-key when it comes to our lives, and we usually go out of our way to be inconspicuous. Also, I’m more likely to embark on a career as a prima ballerina than I am to walk into a megachurch, dead or alive. There’s not much of a chance of me haunting anyone, either. Far too much effort would be involved.
Still, since we live in a city with at least one colossal church that looks like it should have a waterslide and a kiddie pool, I sometimes start to think about the bad things that can happen at funerals. It may sound morbid, but if you’ve attended more than one or two end-of-life services, you know how easily things can turn uncomfortable for everyone involved. And when the afterlife arrives, that embarrassment probably also extends to the recently deceased.
Imagine it, though, being forced to hang around your own memorial service, watching your surviving loved ones field awkward questions about how you died, listening to people lie about how lifelike you look there in your casket. Just when you think you’ve earned a well-deserved rest, you’re forced to sit and listen to a preacher turn your death into an excuse for an altar call.
That’s not all. Someone’s going to play embarrassingly bad music, too, whether it’s planned or left up to the funeral home. Once, I attended a wake where the theme from Gone with the Wind played on a constant loop. The entire time, I kept expecting hoop-skirted cosplayers to appear and distribute mint juleps to all the attendees.
In the end, though, death-related rituals aren’t about the dead. We may pretend they are, but they’re really all about making the living feel better about themselves. Then again, so are desserts.
Just to make it official, here are a few guidelines for my funeral service. No bagpipes, especially no “Amazing Grace.” Just because something’s been done, that doesn’t mean it needs to continue happening. If more than five people show up, acceptable group activities are limited to ordering in Indian food, watching the film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, or playing a game of Cards Against Humanity.
Lastly, no one is allowed to say “He looks so natural, like he’s sleeping,” because I won’t be there, at least not in bodily form. If I’m there in spirit, you might try looking for me over by the coffee urn. Feel free to drop by and say hello.
All this to say, it’s important to plan ahead, and it doesn’t get much more ahead than the way you depart this world. We don’t think about these things because we don’t like to ponder death. It’s frightening, inconvenient, and well, final.
On the other hand, you can play it fast and loose and continue to not think about death. The next thing you know, though, someone’s playing Celine Dion at your wake, and there’s not a blessed thing you can do about it. Why? Because you’re dead, and dead people can’t work the sound equipment.