Weekend!

The mother of a friend of ours recently passed and we recently went to the service to both mourn and celebrate her. She was the matriarch of a large family with six kids, and umpteen grandkids and even a couple of great-grandkids. She was lucky enough to die surrounded by her kids and some of her grandkids, some holding her hands, touching her shoulders, patting her knee, standing in the corner… there to see her off.

At the funeral itself, we saw the family and, golly, they took up a whole row of pews all by themselves. Front pew to the back one. One of the lady’s younger brothers was a priest and he officiated over the full Mass.

Dozens of relatives, dozens of friends, dozens upon dozens of friends of relatives. The internment was family-only and we were lucky enough to be asked to help take care of the flowers and make sure that they were set up properly at the house of our friend (who, still living in the same city as her mother, was the central command post for everybody who had flown in from all over the country).

After moving all of the flowers inside, I happened to check the fridge and saw that they were good on food but short on dessert so I ran off to the local grocer’s and picked up six kinds of Klondike Bars and some Choco Tacos and some low-carb ice cream options. The family wake was going to last a few more days and there were a *LOT* of cousins.

It was one of those funerals that makes you say “okay… that’s one of the best possible endings to a person’s story.”

And that made me think about other funerals I’d been to… too many, it feels like. Some were great and left you feeling like you were somehow lucky to be part of the close of the story of someone very lucky themselves. Some were less good. Not because the person wasn’t someone whose funeral you would go to… but because they were waaaaaay too soon, or too unexpected, or even merely officiated by someone who you wouldn’t want officiating the opening of a shoe store.

The good ones had people get up to tell their stories of the dearly departed. The bad ones had this side of the family still upset with that side of the family over stuff that happened three funerals ago.

And even though you know you should be thinking about the person who is being eulogized, it’s hard to not think something like “I wonder what my funeral will be like?” There was a recent story of a wake where the deceased was put in his favorite outfit, sitting in his favorite chair, with his favorite snacks on the table next to him, holding a game controller and looking like he was playing his favorite game.

When I was a kid, everyone was buried in their Sunday Best. Even if you never saw them dressed like that outside of weddings or funerals.

I suppose it’s good that people can be buried in their comfy outfits rather than something to keep up appearances. I know that *I* want to be buried in jeans. (Or just kept in them for the wake if cremated.)

I’d hope that the funeral service itself be interrupted by the coffin being rolled into the room halfway through. “Sorry, he got caught up in something.”

I’d hope that there are people laughing and people crying and maybe a fistfight, but a tasteful one, and after it’s broken up someone will say something like “Oh, they just loved him so much” and everybody laughs and then cries again and manages to have no hard feelings by the time it’s time for the next funeral.

And, until it’s time for that one, get back to the regular goings-on of muddling through the dash.

So… what’s on your docket?

(Image is “Play” by Clare Briggs. Used with permission of the Briggs estate.)


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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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27 thoughts on “Weekend!

  1. Being a cradle (albeit sometimes heretical) Catholic, I had little trouble focusing on the ceremony and the person we were mourning.

    Except for when the sweet and non-Catholic lady two pews ahead of us not only received the consecrated host during communion (!), but palmed it instead of eating it (!!), and then LOST IT SOMEWHERE IN HER PEW (!!!). The priest who came back to request she return it (no religion but if you’re curious you can see why here and get the in depth backstory here), and the nun/ninja who came back to actually find it once it was clear she had DROPPED JESUS ON THE FLOOR (sorry but it’s hard not to yell and talk about religion given the circumstances) were thoroughly horrified. (Lady, embarrassed: “oh, it’s okay… you don’t have to find it.” Nun: “No it is not and YES I MOST CERTAINLY DO.”) I knew I should be horrified (and I did have sympathy for the priest and the nun), but mostly I found it hilarious (both of their butts were sticking up in the air! right in the middle of a funeral mass! it could not have been *less* dignified), and I had trouble keeping a straight face. Especially since I knew the deceased would have just as much trouble keeping a straight face as I did (and according to my personal beliefs, was probably watching and giggling hysterically from wherever she is now). Oh lordy. That poor dear who lost the Host was so flustered and confused, and the nun was SO appalled, and… it’s hard not to snicker just thinking about it.

    Between that near-silent passion play, the deep comfort I took in having long-familiar forms for my grief, and how completely adorable and Jesuitical the officiating priest was, I actually found myself missing the Church. For the first time in several years.

    This weekend we’ll be on call if those friends need us, but we are also due at our nephew’s for his birthday celebration which is actually this weekend (whoops! boy was he surprised when we showed up last weekend), I have a friend coming down for tea on Sunday afternoon, and I really need to clean and de-nestify the guest room, given that it will be occupied by one guest or another for basically the entire month of August… Lots to do.

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    • That is one of the best stories I have heard in a while. I’m also going to slightly bend the MD rules here by saying that when I go occasionally to church these days for family obligations, as a non-practicing Catholic, I still go to Communion. My VERY DEVOUT boss, who is also a close friend, is appalled when I tell him this but I decided that I’d rather participate in this ritual of my youth than sit in the pew while the rest of my family is there. the big G and I can talk about it when my time comes. Somehow I don’t think he will care all that much.

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      • My attendance is similarly non-regular, though non-practicing is a more complex question (by my lights, not so much the Church’s). I grew up cheerfully attending both Catholic and Anglican churches interchangeably (but one or the other every week) because of my second family who looked out for me all those years of things being hard at home, so I was pretty much soft on the question from before I hit First Communion :). Our diocese treats communion as a question of conscience for Catholics, practicing or non-, so that’s okay. (I suspect the Jesuit in question would happily help anyone participate who wanted to if he weren’t in someone else’s parish, but, you know, Jesuits – it’s part of why I so enjoy half of them.)

        *wonders if we can get away with claiming we’re not discussing religion but ethnography from the viewpoint of a participant-observer ;)*

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        • * I agree – this is a cultural discussion, not a religious one

          The Catholic community is very much a major part of cultural fabric of Louisville. We are heavily influenced by German-Catholic and Irish-Catholic immigrants, not to mention smaller groups of French Catholics. We have around 40 Catholic grade schools in the archdiocese with nearly 16,000 students. Another 8 Catholic high schools with about 7,000 students. Between Lenten fish fries, football games, church picnics, etc my non-Catholic wife has even said that if you live here you are practically Catholic by osmosis.

          With all of that said, I routinely tell people that I am culturally Catholic, just not a practicing Catholic. Without dipping into theology, for me it’s actually not a problem with the Church, just Christianity in general. But I also love my Catholic upbringing and would not trade it for anything.

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          • I suspect myself of making a few statements that some people would want to defend against above, not to provoke, but because it’s impossible to talk about this stuff otherwise — though probably if you aren’t culturally Catholic, or maybe even if you aren’t trained in theology and believe in some of it, they don’t stick out that way. When you have both dogma and church politics in a religion, it is hard to discuss one’s own diversions from dogma without implicitly criticizing said dogma (and said church politics).

            But I’ll try to stay at least this subtle.

            And my point really was just to tell the stories.

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  2. Apropos to this somber turn of conversation, my paternal grandmother passed away yesterday. My brother who is in Singapore live-streamed the funeral service so that those of us who are overseas could attend remotely.

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  3. So back in May we celebrated my mother’s 100th birthday. Basically made a family reunion out of it, a really nice time. She doesn’t really remember it but the rest of us do. Which is all to say that I undoubtedly have one of those funeral thingies in my not at all distant future. Not being morbid, just realistic.

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    • Love the idea of turning that milestone into a family reunion. It’s a cruel twist of fate that when somehow reaches the age where they have seen and experienced so much, the universe usually robs them of their ability to share it with others.

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  4. I am sorry for the loses of you and the ones commenting, may they all find peace.

    While back home for the Fourth of July gathering of the clan, a man that was rather influential to my early life died, and I was able to attend the rare wake with my father for him. It was an old-school affair right out of my childhood memories of so many other funeral. The country church deep in the Elk River valley which hadn’t been touched much by time and certainly not by cell phone coverage, as there was none. An amazingly talented man, the soft music in the background was he himself playing, one of many recordings he had mad. He was reposed in a casket that had been hand made, by him, at the teaching and direction of the Amish folks from up north that he had cultivated a 50+ year relationship out of a mutual respect and craftsmanship. A closed casket, the stroke that weakened then killed him making his face not what it had been in life, with a flag covering for his service and pictures surround that his daughters could catch glimpses of as they mingled with those who had found their cleanest shirts for the occasion. And I in my suit, feeling both at home and out of place, had many of the same thoughts Jaybird did. Good country people, honoring a good man, in their own way…and hoping for the same, sitting there listening to the departed clawhammer his banjo and sing, “Who will sing for me,” a bluegrass standard about your own funeral. Tis well.

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    • One of the things I said to the spouse of my friend whose mother died was “even when it happens the best possible way that it could possibly happen…” and he finished the sentence for me: “It still sucks.”

      That said, if it’s going to happen anyway (and it *WILL* happen anyway), best to have it happen the best possible way that it could possibly happen.

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    • That is quite beautiful, . One touching detail from the service we attended is that the casket was covered with a special blanket the deceased had designed, covered entirely with pictures of her beloved family. Another blanket, same pattern, wrapped her inside the casket as well. It really touched me to see their smiling faces enfolding her body in that way.

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      • Brought to my mind while reading that: My maternal grandmother, a remarkable story I’ll write up sometime and who lived with us in her final years, was renown for making patchwork quilts. I have several to this day. So when she died one of the things the family did (9 living children ATD) was have the casket lined in one of the quilts instead of the usual material. A strong and potent memory that you brought up. Thank you.

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  5. A good passing is much to be looked forward to. My grandfather passed at age 93 about a decade ago, with my mother and her sister making it up to the bay, my cousin K and I making the shortish drive to the hospital. The services were six months later, with the rest of the extended family and grandkids present, where we spread his ashes on Albany hill, illegally, but whatever. It was a very good day.

    This weekend is the Steam Up! It will be warm, but much hydro-carbons will be burned in joyous celebration of industrial and agricultural mechanical history.

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  6. I will admit that one of my biggest fears in life is passing without time to adequately prepare. Not in a theological sense (I think i’m good on that front) but in a clerical sense. I worry my wife won’t be able to figure out where I have all of our digital files stored. That she won’t know how to change the furnace filter. That I didn’t give her the info for my secondary life insurance policy. That relatives will ask her for things because I didn’t spell it out well enough ahead of time. Basically, don’t want her grief to be made harder by my lack of preparation. So she has detailed instructions on funeral and burial arrangements. She knows who gets what and in what order the vultures get to pick through my mountain of outdoor gear. the digital age has certainly made photos easier. Just give everyone a thumbdrive with copies and who cares about the originals? We also have a lot of discussions that begin with, “Let me show you how to do this in case I get hit by a bus tomorrow.”

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    • When my father-in-law passed, only nine months after my mother-in-law, it turned out that he wasn’t the person to update all of the day-to-day information. And that my wife, amidst pretty serious grief, had to deal with a bewildering array of legal and financial actions, actions that I, as her husband, could not help her with. We, though only in our 40’s, are making wills, updating paperwork, etc. I highly recommend getting in touch with a good estate attorney, as most online setups were lacking.

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      • We actually had our wills done this year. It was long overdue because we each have a child of our own and our estate is made slightly more complicated by dividing money between them. The thing for us was acknowledging that if something happened to me, for instance, I would hope that my wife and my daughter (her stepdaughter) would stay in touch, but you don’t it complicated by money. So my daughter gets a % of my life insurance and then my wife gets a % and keeps our house, assets, etc. In case something happens to us at the same time, we have trust funds set up until they turn 25. I got a large sum of money dropped in my lap when i was 21 and my father died. I was not very responsible with that money, so i want to give my kids a little more time to mature before they are faced with the same situation.

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    • BTW, the above comment got filtered to spam. So if you comment and it disappears, please remember to let me or Will or the inquiry address know, and we’ll fish things back out. I cleaned out both spam and trash just now so we have a clean slate, and I’ll try to notice on my own when bad filtering happens, but given that we get 1000s of spams accumulating in a matter of a few days, it’s worth pointing it out to one of us if your comment disappears…. otherwise we miss stuff.

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  7. I thought you wanted to be taxidermied and posed with a Diamond Dallas Page smile.

    I am finishing my caretaking of this house while She is away. Probably going to complete the astronomy club newsletter. Go food shopping, get a beard trim, play the idiot tax, and hope for peace. If I find the werewithal, I’ll probably produce another BoneQuet Hifi.

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  8. For once, I actually did something that made the weekend worthwhile. A friend of mine who lives maybe 5 hours away suggested I come over for a visit and that we could run around East Texas looking at stuff. So I did – we got to a quilt shop and a yarn store and a used-book warehouse, and I went to her house and was besieged (in a good way) by her five orange kittens and other assorted creatures, and we went to a historic cemetery and to Jefferson Texas. (I regret there was not time to go to the alligator-feeding thing or take the riverboat, but that might be for another time).

    It was a very long drive (probably five hours each way, maybe a bit more – my friend lives in the boonies) but I needed to get out of town, not having been out of my smallish (14,000 people but it FEELS smaller) city for a month or so.

    And then today, I filled in with a “devotional” (in the denom I belong to, it is OK for laypeople to preside at services) because our minister is currently down with a kidney stone. (Fortunately I had ample early warning – I knew on Monday – so I could prepare before my trip. And fortunately it was the summer music service, so the devotional didn’t need to be long).

    And yeah. I’ve been to too many funerals in recent years. In some cases, you do laugh and celebrate the person’s life, in some cases you feel like “Well, I’m sad they’re gone, but now they’re out of pain.” In one case it was a VERY sudden and unexpected death, and the memorial service was several weeks later, so the worst of the grief/shock had had time to wear off and we were able to laugh, but.

    Also as a “church lady” I am often one of the ones cooking or serving food to the family, or providing baked goods for a reception afterward. I remember how much a relief it was after my grandmother’s funeral to not have to (a) pick a restaurant and (b) find something on the menu, so I am happy to do this when it works with my teaching schedule. (But I hope we have no more funerals for a good long while….)

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