Final exit strategy

It’s odd that ‘funeral’ would contain the word ‘fun’ within it. Of course, it’s not the only strange example in the English language. There’s ‘die’ in ‘diet’; ‘ant’ in the middle of ‘gigantic’ (which is sort of the opposite of ‘mall’ being included in the word ‘small.’); and no matter how many times I see the word ‘legend’, I see TWO words: Leg End.

But funerals, of course, are anything but fun. Yet, in order to endure them, levity is not only useful but also inevitable.

Last week a Seattle woman suggested the idea that rather than caskets, vaults or cremation—we should compost our dearly departed. It is an idea certainly worth considering:

“Hey, remember those tomato plants we put in Uncle Ed’s compost? I’ll be darned if that one heirloom tomato doesn’t kind of look like him!”

Years ago, when I was an early teen, I went to one of my first funerals. My great aunt had passed away at the age of ninety—although my brother had said she ‘croaked.’ But my dad was the king of euphemisms for that sort of thing. “She kicked, cashed in, shoved off, checked out, bought the farm, gave up the ghost, made an exit, packed it in, and took the last count,” he had said, offering several choices.

My mom used more genteel expressions: “Auntie has departed, passed on, gone the way of all flesh, gone to meet her Maker, gone to glory, joined the angels—or simply, gone on.”
I heard my uncle say that she had “assumed room temperature.” That was my favorite.

In the midst of my great aunt’s open casket funeral, my Dad (forgive him, Lord) nudged me and whispered “Pat! Did you see that?!”
“What?” I whispered back.
“I think I just saw Auntie move!” He said.
The hair on the back of my neck—along with that on my head, arms and legs—sat upright.
Fortunately, Auntie did not.

My mom had overheard Dad—and was furious. He explained that he had just been trying to ease the tension of the situation—but my mom was so angry that a double funeral would have been to her liking.

A few years ago, I attended the funeral of an elderly man whose first name was ‘Alfred.’
Alfred was a wonderful fellow who enjoyed a glass of whiskey the way a bear enjoys a
tub of honey. In fact, Alfred may not have actually been dead. He might have been pickled.

The fellow giving the eulogy stepped to the podium and began his remarks: “Alfred.
The very spelling of his name describes him. “
“A,” he said. “Stands for ‘Amiable’—which he was, completely.”
I could see where the speaker was going.
“L,” he continued. “Loved. Yes, he was, completely.”
I checked my watch. I was glad Alfred’s name wasn’t ‘Alfredrumplestiltskin’ or this speech would take all day.
“F stands for ‘Friend’—which he was, completely.” The audience was starting to fidget.
“R stands for…uh…Really Nice Guy.” Followed by, “Which he was, completely.”
“E stands for…” What would ‘E’ stand for? The audience waited nervously.
“Encredible,” the speaker said. “Which he was, completely. “
Spelling does not count in a eulogy.

Now the audience was getting even more nervous. What would ‘D’ be? Not ‘Drunk’ they hoped.
“And finally, D,” intoned the speaker. The audience of Alfred’s friends held its collective breath.
“Dull,” he said. “Alfred was the most boring guy I ever met.”
The audience gasped—and then burst into laughter. That was the Alfred they all knew as well.
One other funeral comes to mind—that of a family friend named Sophie. She had one request: “Play a Frank Sinatra song at my funeral.”

We went through every Sinatra song we could find trying to find the perfect choice.
I finally settled on “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Perfect.
Right before the service, I gave the church’s audio guy the CD. “Cut 14, “ I said.
“Cut 14,” he repeated. “Got it.”
The service began. People said nice words about what a wonderful and faithful wife Sophie had been.
Finally, it came time to play the Sinatra song.
The audio guy played cut—15.
Too bad.

It was “The Lady is a Tramp.”