Instructions For My Funeral
First, remember it’s not my funeral. It’s yours. I won’t hear the music. I won’t hear the prayers. I won’t hear the cries or the laughs. I won’t be of much use. So indulge yourself. I only have a few requests.
Do my funeral like I did my life: don’t be cheap but don’t be wasteful. A good funeral is like a good wine. The best is rarely the most expensive one on the list.
I want the wake. I want the Mass Of The Resurrection. I want the graveside service. And I want this not for me but for you. There is much wisdom in the Roman Catholic tradition, much consolation, much hope. You will need each of these. Take solace in the thought that such services have comforted folks for centuries.
Have me embalmed or have me burned. That’s up to you. I won’t complain either way.
At times like this, heed the women in our family, for they have a rich inner life. Funerals are about the inner life. The priest should craft his sermon from the words of these women. Listen my wise wife, my fierce sister, my rock-solid nieces. They can trace the contours of the soul.
Let my brother, in so many ways my father, and my nephew, in so many ways my little brother, lead my pall bearers, for the strength of the men in my family is in the courage they find when bearing the heaviest sorrow.
Have a Jew read the “Kaddish” in Hebrew and in English. It’s short, so it will be OK. All my life, I’ve lived around Jews; all my life, I’ve had friends who were Jews. Like the Mass of the Resurrection, the “Kaddish” is a song of praise. Funerals need a bit of praise that isn’t forced. Likewise, all my life I’ve had friends who were Black; all my teaching career I’ve had students who were black. As I can’t imagine my life without their voice, so I can’t imagine my funeral without someone Black reading a psalm.
If poets want to read verse, make it short. And good. For reasons that elude me, funerals seem to attract long and bad poetry.
Indulge yourself emotionally. Feel the finality. There’s not much I learned in life, but this much I know: there are no correct emotions. Sadness. Anger. Gratitude. Regret. Laughter. Melancholy. A good joke. A snicker. There’s room for all that and more at my funeral.
Go to the graveside. Look in the hole. When my body is lowered, throw a handful of dirt on the casket. This is the needful bit for the very reason that you just can’t make it easy.
Put on a good feed. People need a good meal after a good burial. And if someone wants seconds or thirds, or if someone even drinks a bit too much, this is not the day for being judgmental.
Be kind to my memory, but don’t be false. In my youth, I drank too much, did drugs, womanized. In a war of questionable morality, I killed a boy. I traveled the world in order to run from my troubles. I spurned the love and kindness of people who truly cared for me. There is much I regretted, and much more I simply learned to live with. I know it, and so does anyone who knows me. But I got better with age. So say that I tried my best to love, that I taught a few kids to read and write, that I spent much of my teaching career helping the poor and the immigran, that I was a good and faithful husband, a good friend, a pretty good writer, that I created a few works of art. If nothing else, say that I made a few people laugh. So let the truth also bear its kindness.
On the other hand, I hope someone will exaggerate at least one story about me. Something about my life lends itself to exaggeration.
In any case, regard what I say about my funeral. Or don’t. I won’t know.