Rules to Die By

Got three funeral invites over the past week or so. One was
to Athenae’s grandmother’s, which I would never have missed for the world. When
you have a good friend, you’re always there.

It was one of the sadder moments
I’ve seen recently, though, because when you see a hurt friend and you can’t
solve what hurts them, you hurt with them. While it was a beautiful service, a
giant gathering of people with the deceased present is an awful lot to deal

While we were talking, she told me point-blank: “Don’t let
anyone do this kind of thing for me.”

That wasn’t the first time I heard someone tell me that.
When Dad’s mom died, my Mom’s mom, dying of cancer herself, managed to make it
to the funeral. As I sat with her during the visitation, she turned to me and
said, “I don’t want a funeral.”

“Mom wants to have a service for you…” I began.

“Is this REALLY what you want for me?” she asked. “All these
sad people? All this foofah? All this misery? Why?”

I couldn’t answer that one. She had had a rough go of it.
About a year earlier, her husband died. She cobbled together what little money
she could for a newspaper announcement only to have the obit she paid for
include three misspellings and a number of errors. Trying to explain the
benefit of these death rituals seemed pointless.

When Grandma died three months later, Mom had the service.
Grandma wasn’t too far off in her assessment of how it felt.

Honestly, I hate death. It freaks me out. In fact, one of
the recurring dreams I have when I’m horribly stressed is thatI’m dead but not
. I can’t move and I’m being buried in a glass coffin. As shovel after
shovel of dirt hits the casket, I want to scream but can’t. It’s usually those
dreams that have me walking the floors at 3 a.m.

The Missus has been on me to have a will made out, a plan
set up and more. The closest I’ve gotten is buying our plots in the family
portion of the cemetery back home. I took her there and jokingly told her,
“Look, I bought you land!”

So here’s the deal: I confront fear and discomfort with
humor. I decided that Ms. A is right: The funeral route is no route for me. I’m
done playing Mr. Nice Guy with the death industry. Here’s my “preplanned life-exit

Read on with a grain of salt.



– I want Athenae to write my obit. What she wrote on her
grandmother still gives me chills. If she’s dead already, don’t just phone the
thing in to the mouth-breathing twerp running the obit desk at the Beaver
County Tidbit. And for God sakes, don’t let the funeral home people write it. Most of the one’s I’ve encountered
have the language skills of a retarded chimp and the hyperbolic nature of John
Madden on a meth bender. I taught enough journalists out there. Someone must
feel they owe me something. Let’s get them on the horn.

– Don’t get euphemistic. I did not “expire.” I am not a
magazine subscription. I did not “pass.” I am notplaying $100,000 Pyramid. I
died. Let’s leave it at that.

– While we’re at it, let’s keep an eye on the adverbs. Don’t
say I died “suddenly.” Everyone does. You’re either dead or you’re not. You can
have a long trail of illness to death, but death is always sudden. Also, don’t
say I died “unexpectedly.” Other than theCyclops, none of us can see the exact
moment and way that we will die. If you’re expecting me to die, someone call
the cops.

– Please list my cause of death, regardless of what it is. It’ll
cut down on wild speculation. If I died because I tried to blow myself and I
fell off the couch and broke my neck, hey, that’s just fine. Tell people that.
If it was important enough to me that I died doing it, I’m good with you
telling the world all about it. The last thing I want it people spiffballing.
“He looks kind of thin… You think he had AIDS?”

– Edit the obit before filing it. I’m not going to have a
“pubic viewing” regardless of what the newspaper says.


– Two words: Open bar.

– Send a personal invitation to Mike Eruzione and the rest
of the Boys of Winter. Maybe one or two will show up. That’d rule.

– We will be having a Catholic mass. Because of this, I want
someone to put together a full script, complete with stage directions, on what
people should be doing at each point in the service. I have tons of great
friends who never saw the inside of a church. I don’t want them looking around
like kids who lost their parents at Kmart and asking each other “Do we stand or
kneel for this part?” Even between the various churches I’ve attended, there
are variations on the theme of when you kneel and sit. Everyone should be on
the same page.

– Don’t let Father Phil do the service. I hated listening to
him while I was alive. I somehow don’t think death will cure me of that.

– For the eulogy, each person gets five minutes, the length
of a rebuttal in a debate round. This means you need to be focused, clear and
prepared. None of this “Stevie Wonder at the Grammys” meandering, random
bullshit. If The Missus OKs you for an additional 3 minutes, you’re fine.
Otherwise sit down.

– Conversely, my wife can talk as long or as short as she
wants. Living with me for this amount of time deserves some form of combat pay.

– There is no limit on how many people can speak. This is
why we have an open bar.

– Anyone who wants to speak can. I spent half of my adult
life fighting censorship. I’m not going to start censoring people now. If you
think I was a miserable prick, feel free to pipe up. No one’s standing in your

– The photo montage is fine, but if you put that shot of me
in there with the Panama Jack straw hat or the one of me in the white polyester
leisure suit at age 3, I will haunt you from beyond the grave. Also, make sure
there are plenty of pictures of me and The Missus. The more “group of guys”
shots that show up, the more people start to ask uncomfortable “lifestyle”
questions. Let’s not start that shit…

– No flowers. I don’t want anything at my wake that’s
decomposing faster than I am. And don’t send plants. People always feel like
they’ve done something good by sending a live plant. Not in my book. The family
or friends have to take them home and care for them and if the damned things
die, the people who took them home feel guilty. Send booze for the bar instead.

– If you feel the need to break the above rule, spell-check
the florist. Saw six floral arrangements at a journalism professor’s funeral
last week and there were four misspellings. If “You’re Pal Alan” sent flowers, tell
Alan to demand a refund.

– There must be food to accompany the booze, and not weak
food either. I hate those random plates of cheese that get all sweaty after
they’ve been out for 20 minutes. Fire up the grill and let’s get some steaks or
at least some brats out here.

– Slip a couple copies of the Daily Cardinal in the coffin.
I might need something to read. Also, slip a couple copies of the Badger Herald
in there. I’m not sure if there will be sufficient ass wipe where I’m going.

– Don’t bring kids or other “funeral virgins.” I don’t want
to be a learning experience for anyone. If you didn’t learn anything from me in
life, you missed your chance.


– If someone cuts off the funeral procession, everyone is
required to honk twice and flip them the bird. No exceptions. That means you,
too, Mom.

– If I’m on life support, check the weather for ungodly hot
or ungodly cold days. If there’s a better day to do it, keep me on the plug.
I’ll hold on. I don’t want people pissing and moaning about how frickin’ cold
it was at the grave site.

– If the pricks at the funeral home are going to charge time
and a half to dig the hole because I’m being buried on a weekend or a holiday
(this happened when Grandma died), tell them to wait until Monday. I’ll keep.
Stick me in a cooler or something. Spend the extra money on extending the open

– Don’t put a picture stone on my grave with an image of me.
It’s creepy.

– Speaking of creepy, don’t do creepy shit at the funeral or
afterward. Don’tcompress me into a gem, play a tape of me talking out of the
coffin or some weird ass thing
like that.

– Make sure the casket’s sealed up nice and tight so nothing
gets in and I can’t get out if I’m infected by the zombie virus. Then, leave me
alone. I’m sure you have something better to do than staring at the dirt.

Thanks for letting me share your air. I’ll be back next

10 thoughts on “Rules to Die By

  1. “So here’s the deal: I confront fear and discomfort with humor.”
    When my brother was diagnosed with cancer, he observed that so many obits say something along the lines of “…died after a courageous battle with cancer…”; so instead of being “courageous”, he said he was gonna try being “…weak and whiny” instead.
    That didn’t work either.

  2. don’t forget the death notices about being born to eternal life and gone to jesus. i want my to say i kicked the bucket. i want they might be giants ‘dead’ played. i am donating my body to science, so no need for plot or casket.
    the lunch after my paternal grandparents funerals were much more healing than the religious ritual. i don’t WANT ritual.

  3. I’ll be donating my body to the university’s forensic anthropology facility. I like the idea of being useful. As for the party, I’ll leave that to the survivors.

  4. Most of my friends are musicians. I want the stage and the bar to be open.
    Do not have activities anywhere near a church.
    As for burial, you can stick a hambone up my ass and let the dogs drag me away. I’ll be dead. I don’t care.
    But if you have to toss something in the casket to read on the trip, make it PG Wodehouse. He always makes me laugh.

  5. Uh, Doc…didn’t you just write that death always comes unexpectedly? So, shouldn’t you have signed off with “I may be back next week”?
    When my mother and dad died, the “viewings” were the only halfway useful part of the rituals. At both of them we had a party atmosphere, and at my dad’s we were practically rolling on the floor laughing. I kept checking to be sure my dad hadn’t gotten up to join us. He enjoyed that part of the rituals too.
    When I pass, expire, kick the bucket, or just simply die, I don’t care what is done by those “left behind”. Go on a cruise, have a beach party, sit around laughing, or hold a crying jag. I don’t figure to be watching anyway. Just, please, keep the preachers away from me in my last minutes of life.

  6. *harumph*
    Scratches hoppy, David and pansypoo off the list of potential clients-makes note to wrangle invite to the wake.

  7. My feeling is that funerals are for the living, not the dead. There *can be* something very honorable in having a service that reflects what the person meant to everyone present, but it’s not the dead guy who is going to care if he didn’t get the funeral he wanted. Shy people may not like the idea of being the center of attention at their funeral, but they won’t actually be there. The people they leave behind may need that community support to help them get through.
    When my mom died six years ago, I got upset that my dad wanted an open casket (against my mother’s wishes). But I realized afterward that it was a very big deal for him and somehow helped him to deal with his grief. So, while I don’t like open caskets, and avoid looking at the dead person in the casket at funerals, I realize that it can be comforting for some people.
    I like to imagine my funeral will be a big party with crying and dancing. That’s what I’d like to flatter myself in thinking I’ve brought to the people in my life. But I really don’t believe I’ll know, one way or the other, so I guess I just hope that they get what *they* need out of it.

  8. A month ago I was lucky enough to be with my 101-year-old friend, holding her hand, when she died. She just didn’t bother to breathe again. At her funeral, her daughter and I wore blinking Christmas light necklaces and the minister (a beautiful woman with a wicked sense of humor) wore a purple feather boa. She’d have loved it.
    My will says cremation, no services, but a party with open bar at the yacht club. Some of the ashes go off with the race committee’s cannon at the start of a race. The rest go to places where I’ve been especially happy. Hmmm. Guess I’d better gain some weight so there’ll be enough to go around.

  9. Well, seeing as how pneumonia hasn’t killed me yet, I’ll take a chance on offering my thoughts. I’m cool with whatever makes people who cared about me feel even a tiny bit better. If that means doing the hokey-pokey while dressed as Carmen Miranda, woo hoo for fruity hats.
    I’m a fan of the Klingon way–when I die, all that’s left is an empty shell. Why would I care what happens to the grocery bag that made me look short all these years? Seriously–inside, I’m Manute frakking Bol…

Comments are closed.