Remember in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” when they had Ralph Stanley singing “O Death”?
In his plaintive, high-lonesome way, he begged of Death, “Won’t you spare me over ’til another year?” I tried to spell that the way he sings it, but it was impossible to use traditional characters to represent that Clinch Mountain way of forming words. In his mouth, “year” becomes something like, “Hyeahrrrr.” He draws it out like a wail … He is singing about death, after all.
And death is serious business – so don’t think I’m making light of it or the grief that it brings. I mean, I could tell you a thing or two about losing a parent at an early age. I have a healthy respect for death, and avoid it at all costs. At the same time, I feel like it’s also part of the normal order of things. And as a Christian, I consider that there is much more to come. More and better.
This is where my mind was when I attended a funeral recently of the father of an old friend. Her father was 94 years old and had been declining for a year or so. By all accounts he was “ready” – if a person can be. That is to say, he knew death was coming and wasn’t worried about it in the least.
He even planned his own memorial service: Rather than a eulogy, he wanted a few folks to share remembrances. He wanted his niece to sing “Amazing Grace,” a “four-handed piano duet,” and, since he was a career Army office, he wanted the Army song at the end ... that “caissons go rolling along” song. Afterward everyone was instructed to adjourn to the country club for lunch. It was completely charming. I was reminded of my late 93-year-old grandmother who requested for her funeral bouquets, in all caps and underlined with exclamation points: “NO FOOTBALL MUMS!!!”
Now, I am fully aware that my friend and her family were grieving for their patriarch, but mostly they were kind of celebrating. And I had this weird thought: “I should go to more funerals.” Not that I wish there were more to go to, just that it was so lovely to hear the folks telling how much they loved the guy.
He had lived such an admirable life – raised in rural Virginia, jumping from 11th grade at a two-room schoolhouse to Virginia Tech, where he persevered through his studies by reminding himself how grueling farm life was. He was part of the first wave of the D-Day invasion, and served in every war after that in some capacity or other until he retired. And these people loved and respected him so much.
I guess since he and his family were not part of my present circle, it was easy for me to be detached, to think random thoughts. Like, “I should go to more funerals.” And, “people should say this stuff to the LIVING, not wait ‘til they’re gone.” And, “a four-handed piano duet”? And “when it’s my time, I’m gonna think of some stuff like that to have at my funeral!”
First, I have to hope that I’m good and old so that it’s a bit less of a tragedy. I mean, I do have a husband and kid that I’m not ready to say goodbye to. But when all is said and done, here’s what I’d like:
• People laughing. Even if they’re talking about dorky stuff I did. If fact, I’m going to require that they tell silly anecdotes about me – because there are plenty. I don’t even mind if the photo they have on the tripod at the guestbook is kind of goofy.
• Some good, uplifting scriptures read, emphasizing how much God loves everybody and how cool Jesus is.
• Nat Stine and the Chapel Hill Bible Church worship team to play lots of fantastic music, including, but not limited to, “In Christ Alone” and the Bill Mallonee song “Double Cure.”
• A gospel group to sing Bob Dylan’s “Saved.”
• Dexter Romweber and the band of his choosing to play “When the Saints Go Marching In,” like he used to at shows when he was just a kid starting the Flat Duo Jets.
• A huge buffet catered by Fiesta Grill out on Highway 54 West, with free-flowing locally brewed beer and plenty of Diet Cokes all around.
• A big cake.
OK, so that last part made it sound like a wedding, but, well, I’ve had a lot of joy and that’s how I want to go out. If my passing leaves a hole in people’s lives, I want to fill it with good stuff: laughter, love, grace and delicious food.
Julie Moore lives in Chapel Hill. She can be reached at email@example.com