NotL Rants column, The Niagara Advance
It’s February, so we may as well talk about death.
This past January was an eye-opener for the eyes-closed set: So many of our community lost to illness and tragedy. And, thus, so many funerals to attend. A time for careful consideration of life, and death. Of memories and experiences, things that make up an existence, and ways to celebrate them.
If these things can possibly be measured, I have never attended a ‘better’ memorial service than the one held last week for Margherita Howe. Judging by the standing-room-only crowd at St Mark’s, you were probably there, so I don’t need to describe it. But I would like to point out how delightful it was to be able to actually enjoy such a ceremony, to experience tears and laughter equally--as, if lucky, one does in life.
While there was of course much grief, there was great joy too. And love. So much love. And music and laughter and harmonies to stir the soul and shiver the skin. There was also great community: The Howe family brought us all into their experience, warmly and personally; gave generously of themselves so that we could better understand and appreciate their Margherita. And Madame Howe’s own fingerprint was clearly visible on the proceedings, viz the live jazz band, the Gallery Choir, and the simple and proud recycled native wood box containing her cremated remains.
Planning is everything. No, acceptance is everything. The planning follows. To deny your own death is to deny others the opportunity to celebrate your life properly. I hate to tell you this, but, face it: You’re going to die. Why not deal with the inevitable decisions now, rather than leaving it to your bereaved family and friends to choose the location, music, readings and everything else?
I come from a long line of immortals. Apparently no one in my family is going to die; no cemetery plots have been secured, no requests made clear. At a fairly hale 89, my grandmother just might outlive us all, but if she doesn’t
none of us really knows what to do regarding her interment, her funeral service, her remains. And no one seems to really want to talk about it either.
Contrarian that I am in my family, I have made my wishes clear to friends, said family, and my poor husband
who hears about it almost every day. All organs are to be donated, and what’s left is to be sliced into exploratory
bits by medical students. I feel very strongly that to do anything else is just plain wasteful: Burying perfectly good
organs in the ground, or burning them into ash, is denying sight, hearing, life, education to others. Is that intelligent,
The service will be lively, joyous and real. How so? Aha: Busted. I haven’t gone that far. For all my railing, I
haven’t gone through the hymnal--or my iTunes, for that matter--to pick out the appropriate songs. Haven’t chosen
readings, asked for eulogists, written a plaque, designated anything at all. Most shamefully, I haven’t even drawn up a will yet, despite the fact the package, bought cheaply at a simple stationery store, sits on my desk awaiting my decisions.
What keeps us from dealing with these issues? Fear of death, of course. But to arrange your funeral isn’t to coordinate your dying. We have no control over that. But we can control what goes on afterwards. Isn’t it worth taking the time to think about how you’d like to be remembered, and how you would like that formal remembering done?