Sunday, June 11, 2006

Don't forget to write it down.

There's something quite unreal about getting a phone call telling you that a person is dead. Especially if you weren't expecting it. The deaths of terminally ill people, old people, even those who go to the hospital for minor surgery and die from complications don't elicit the same stomach punch of breathless disbelief as the deaths of people who consider life to be a daily adventure. You hear the words and then they just sort of hang out there in the air for a moment before your mind is able to read and comprehend the meaning. One minute he's there...and the next he's not.

A friend of ours died last week. I should be clear and say that, had I not married Mr. Half, I probably wouldn't know RS at all. Because I did marry him and because a tight network of high school buddies (including Mr. Half's two younger brothers) has stayed close since elementary school, I was lucky enough to have known RS for about 21 years. Either way, RS died on Sunday after slipping into a diabetic coma, and because he was alone when it happened, he could not be saved. It was two days before he was found. It was, to say the least, a huge shock. RS was the life of every party.

RS had a huge group of friends and many of them came from out of state and one even rerouted her flight on the way back from Venezuela to be there. My brother-in-law left early from an architect's convention in Los Angeles in order to arrive at D/FW at midnight before the 10 a.m. burial. Eight of the friends, including my two brothers-in-law, served as pallbearers and it was an especially emotional moment to watch as the same guys with whom RS had ridden bikes (as kids) through the neighborhood or those with whom he competed for First Chair trumpet in middle school band struggled under the weight their friend's casket as they brought it to its final resting place.

The service itself was long and...somewhat difficult. Despite an eventful dating life, RS was not married and had no kids, so the planning of the service fell to his older siblings and elderly parents. With the exception of a sister, a childhood friend and three co-workers who spoke eloquently on his behalf, the rest of the service seemed to address a person other than the friend we knew. The music, the words, the rather protracted and vociferous assumptions regarding his religious faith on behalf of the older brother seemed to ring falsely. Surely RS would never have wanted this awful, awful singer to punctuate his funeral with no less than four solos? The RS we knew would never have ordered this.

The thing is, people express informally what they want or don't want all the time. They go to a wedding and hear a song and say to a friend, "Dear God, that's hideous. I'll never use that at my wedding! You attend a funeral and you make a mental note to yourself NOT to be buried on a hot Texas afternoon. In the movie, "Hi-Fidelity", John Cusack's character, Rob Gordon, makes just such an announcement while attending a funeral and considers Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" as something he'd like played at his service. Of course, you get to plan the wedding yourself, but the funeral is unfortunately--unless you've got intentions to leave the planet soon-- the domain of those left behind...and not necessarily the people who know you the best. And what 45 year old with plenty of living to do sits down and writes out a funeral program? Clearly our friend did not.

So I'm saying it here and now. If I know....before I expect to and Mr. Half and the boys are all still here?? They get to decide. (Okay...let my sisters pick the clothes I'm wearing because I'm sure not leaving that up to someone without a uterus) They know what I want and what I don't and I'm writing it all down just to make sure. I don't want someone else's expression of what looks or sounds good or right or proper to invade my final hurrah...whenever that is. No pontificating. No music requests to suit personal tastes (use them at your own service). Fourteen drawn out verses of the same old hymn won't change the fact that I'm dead or the person I was prior to dying. No making me sound better or nicer or holier than I am...or was. I don't want my friends walking out afterward as we did yesterday asking ourselves if perhaps the brother wasn't eulogizing another person...and not RS. There...I feel better now...sort of.

And can I just say that the sanctity of a funeral procession is no longer something ordinary citizens give a crap about?? Despite the police escort and the stretch limo for family and the long line of cars with lights on, we had at least two cars CUT IN on the funeral procession. One sped up next to our line of cars, cut in front of us and rode along until his exit came up and the other cut in front of us and used the procession to expedite her trip to the street of her choosing, rather than pulling over alike everyone else. Honking? It does nothing to dissuade these losers. I'm continually astounded at the erosion of our society.

I'm ready for something to happen that will give me a deeply satisfying belly laugh. I want to lose my breath over something hilarious. And then I want to write about it. Keep your fingers crossed.


Blogger Ben Dolan said...

Sorry 'bout RS. Good post.

5:34 PM  
Blogger vendella von messershmitt said...

I wish I had something to contribute to make you laugh very hard, stomach-clenching-breath-stopping-soundless-yawping hard, but I'm fresh out.

In the meantime know this: I love the piece of the sky you've got going here, have been reading it for some time without saying much and plan on settin' a spell longer in the absence of any more funerals.

This life is funny business. That's why I buy tons of really expensive shoes, drink insanely overpriced rare and imported vodka, worship music and talk to the stars...all on a good day, if I'm lucky.

Wendalina Jolie (aka the psycho therapist)

6:12 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

My condolences to you on the loss of your friend.

I hope that belly laugh comes real soon.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Lindsay said...

I am so sorry for the loss of RS..
Great Post, I LOVE the way your write..

8:07 PM  
Blogger cameo said...

i spent two hours at a funeral last summer for one of my mom's dearest friends (rob). he died of aids. he was gay.

his parents are outrageously religious. and the funeral was their attempt to save our souls. no concept of their son. no acknowlement of his life.

his siblings were there - one of whom banned him from her life and the lives of her children when she learned he was gay. his brother later demanded rob's partner pay rent if he wanted to ever stay in the house (his partner lived in a neighboring town). the whole thing was disgusting. and disheartening.

six weeks later we had a memorial for him with all the people who knew him best. and we shared stories. and we watched a video of him dancing. and it was right and it felt good.

and since then, i have made my wishes know, as well.

something to make you laugh? i may have something. if i do, i'll post it.

have a good day.

9:53 PM  
Blogger Nilbo said...

I was at a funeral once for a friend. The first speaker - a brother - stepped up to the microphone and said "If Beaner were here, he'd want you all to take a moment and think about the impact Christ can have in your life."

I looked at some of the other people around who were good friends of Beaner. Now, he was a Christian, for sure, but he never much talked about it and was as profane and prone to mild moral terpitude as any of us, and it quickly became one of those situations where those of us who knew him had to bite back our laughter.

But you know how that gets, when you're riding the edge of one emotion and getting pulled to another and you begin getting a bit hysterical (hello, Chuckles the Clown!)? We we dying, trying hard not to burst out into uproarious gales of laughter at some of the brother's sure-fire crowd-pleasing punch lines as "He was a man who held Jesus close to his heart" and "He would always ask "What would Jesus do?"

We were saved when the brother finished and a friend got up - clearly throwing away the notes he had prepared. He stepped up to the mic and said "Well, I don't know about all that. But if Beaner were here, I'm pretty sure he'd be complaining about the parking, checking out the girls, and making plans to golf right after this is all done. And that's why I loved him. Thank you."

BOOM. Huge gales of laughter and applause. And the best part? The sour face on Beaner's sanctimonious prick of a brother.

I've made my wishes clear. And just a taste: as the guests file out at the end, they will do so snapping their fingers and walking in time to Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy". I figure the song is pretty cheesy. But I really think you can't cry and pop your fingers at the same time. Try it.

5:01 AM  
Blogger Arabella said...

I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend. I'm also sorry to hear of the service that didn't really represent RS. Hopefully, there was comfort in all those friends going out of their way to attend.

5:31 AM  
Blogger Marcie said...

Sorry about your friend.
I have wondered myself when the funeral styles of the older generation will be a thing of the past. What bugs me the most is when the preacher, or whoever, is talking about the person like they knew them well, all the while pronouncing names incorrectly.

5:32 AM  
Blogger Katherine said...

Sorry for your loss. I completely agree about making your wishes known.

6:20 AM  
Blogger TB said...

Here's hoping that something hilarious has happened because I can't wait to read your take on it. Beautiful piece of writing, WordGirl. Thinking of you.

8:28 AM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

Totally there with you on how people make the dead person out to be something they aren't. The first time I encountered that was when I lost a friend. We were both 15 at the time. I took the vow then to make sure that never happened to me.

I do want Amazing Grace sang though. Love that hymn. But the traditional way. None of this new wave A.G.

8:56 AM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

I'm sorry to hear about your friend. Thinking of you...

My mom always used to tell me she wanted to be buried in a pine box. She just couldn't see the point of spending a ton of money on something that would just end up in the ground anyway. Before she died we talked very briefly about what she wanted but then she got too sick to discuss it. I ended up having a memorial service for her, as opposed to a standard 'funeral', with singing and speeches and then stuff to eat afterward. I had so many people approach me afterward and tell me they wanted that instead of a funeral when they died, including my own father.

(And although I'm posting with my Blogger ID, because it's the only way I can comment here, I'm not at Blogger anymore, mmmkay?)

9:00 AM  
Blogger Tink said...

That's awful! I'm sorry about the loss of your friend. And I'm sorry the funeral wasn't something that reflected the type of person he was more. I know it's morbid, but I'm constantly telling my loved ones what to do if something happens to me.

"You get my dogs."
"Make sure I'm not buried."
"If you put me in a dress I'll come back and haunt you damn it."

9:59 AM  
Blogger Antique Mommy said...

I absolutely understand this post. My first husband died suddenly. I had to "plan" the funeral with his parents. As if losing a spouse couldn't get worse. He was not a believer and they wanted it to reflect their faith and style and not their son's. It was astonishing to me how little they knew of him.

10:05 AM  
Blogger wordgirl said...'s not as though he wasn't a person who possessed a religious faith. He may very well have been a person of deep faith, but it was a quiet one. And it didn't preclude his ability to be an open-minded, warm, yielding guy who could party like nobody's business. I'm not against expressions of religious faith at funerals. Not at all. However, I do think they should be more in keeping with the life that was led by the deceased and not a reflection of the "hopes and aspirations" of those left behind.

10:47 AM  
Blogger aka Brandi said...

Two things:

1) Sorry.


2) AMEN!

12:57 PM  
Blogger jess said...

sorry about the loss of a friend so young, that's really sad.

hope the good laugh comes your way soon...

1:03 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Sorry for your loss, and so sad at such a young age. At my grandfather's funeral my uncle, a CFO for a big company was asked to give the eulogy, and it had as much emotion in it as him presenting financial numbers to a CEO.

I have a funny joke (which gets me to that point of laughter) but it has to be heard not read. :(

2:11 PM  
Blogger gracesmom48 said...

Dear Wordgirl, My sister sent me your website one day and said, "this girl says stuff like you do." She was right. I can picture everything you are writing as I'm reading it and that is a gift. I've read a lot of your blogs, not enough to pass a test or anything because I've got 2 kids and the family shares one computer, but I'm getting there. I also live in Texas, am a Democrat and am raising kids (boy and girl) to be open-minded, "let's all question authority" thinkers. Also have the cute husband. (Although mine can't grow hair like yours anymore.) And yet I digress. Because you wrote about your friend's memorial service, his life and death have made a difference. After I finish here, I'm going to write down all of my husband wouldn't allow "Nearer My God To Thee", but what if the grand piano falls on both of us at the same time? As I write this, a good friend, age 46 with 3 kids, is in hospice. Two weeks ago she planned her memorial service; I am in awe. Life is just too short. Sorry I cannot offer a laugh today; although, I wrote a comment on your "Denny We Hardly Knew Ya" post which might be chuckle worthy. The good news is I read he's getting his own show next year written by the Grey's Anatomy lady. I'll keep reading, you keep writing.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Oh I'm so sorry for your loss. This is a great tribute though. My mother always says she wants to be buried New Orleans style, with a jazz band and a gospel choir. I think she's onto something.

3:50 PM  
Blogger The June Cleaver Diaries said...

I'm so sorry about your friend. I've lost a few friends way too early and way to unexpectedly, so I get it.

I'm all over the Irish wake. Throw me a send off in a great pub, sing drinking songs and tell anything you remember about me---good or bad.

Then cremate me. Please. I'm too claustrophobic for a casket, and I'd rather fly through the wind, anyway.

7:01 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

I'm sorry for your loss and even sorrier that your friend had to endure a service that was intended for some other soul it seems. I can't give you a belly laugh right now. Watch a funny old Marx Brothers or W.C. Fields movie maybe? Anyhow, you have inspired me to write it down. Thank you.

8:28 PM  
Blogger Annie, The Evil Queen said...

I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. My Mom has informed all of us that she wants to be buried in a red dress and she wants us to thrw a party to celebrate her life. Wakes on my Dad's side of the family tend to sound more like cocktail parties and we all laugh, cry and share stories.

I was raised Catholic, am currently playing on Team Presbyterian but really like the whole Jewish tradition of Shiva. I guess I better make a list...

8:54 PM  
Blogger gracesmom48 said...

Just thought of one more thing. My 73 year-old father, who is kind of a character, has always expressed doubts about our ability to carry out his final wishes after he "goes to his great reward." Not that he hasn't written everything down and told family, friends, his lawyer and even mere acquaintances about "the plan." So a couple of years ago, as an insurance policy against our alleged incompetence, he decided to make his own headstone by scrawling his final goodbyes with neon yellow paint on a large rock!! The following is the result : "Here lies Bunn, he's done, he made good beans." My father has always been quite proud of his secret recipe and I have to admit they are a crowd pleaser. For a long time the rock was displayed in a flower bed and was the first thing that would catch your eye upon entering his backyard. This has caused more than one guest to come up short and ask my mother, "Is there something I should know?"

10:40 PM  

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