Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bury me not

Having accrued a few funerals now, I'm ready to plan my own.

No rush. Nor any reason, really, except that having come from a funeral last weekend, I jotted some stuff down while it's on my mind.

Bookmark this post for future reference. "Well, he's dead," you might say, when the day comes. "Now what?"

Here's what.
  • [Default plan]: Do whatever you want. I won't be there.
  • Otherwise, should you desire to commemorate my life in some way you think reflects me, may I recommend:
  • No church service. No Mass, no más. That's overkill, so to speak. No final prayers or well-timed water sprinkling over some final representation of my body will lock in my passage to heaven or the afterlife or a better place. I figure if I'm to go to any one of those places (if they're indeed separate), the reservations have already been made.

    No point in having a priest read my name and the names of my family out of a book, and talk like he knows me, and assure folks of my safe passage, when folks are already deciding for themselves what's become of me.

    The most surreal moment in a surreal week following my dad's death was when I walked across the overlarge parking lot of the Catholic church in which I grew up. It's on the end of my childhood street, and I was finishing a long walk of contemplation. At that moment, I was at peace.

    The parish priest, who I only knew of as a kid when he ran the parish downtown,  cut a brisk diagonal of the parking lot, power-walking straight at me.

    "Was William Turner your father?!" the priest asked, his face coming very close to mine. How he would have known this, I have no idea.


    "Well, why didn't you bury him in the Church?!" The priest's face had reddened, his eyes searching mine, as if for signs I'd gone mad.

    I'm sure my face reddened too, with anger and shock, but I tried to explain very calmly that he hadn't been part of the Church for a long, long time. I considered my dad spiritual, in his own way, with a good heart, but he didn't really find church home.

    I know I'm supposed to believe the Catholic Church is the one true church, but I don't. I'm sure the priest believes my dad's passage to eternal rest didn't take, since we had a memorial gathering at a rented dining hall instead, and scattered his ashes someplace rather than contain them in officially sanctified ground, but I don't share the priest's view.

    That weird moment will always stay with me.
  • What?! No church service?! you might be saying. If you're in charge, then deploy the default plan. I won't mind.
  • Cremate my body, in the cheapest possible legal manner; the burden should be light, no maxing credit cards or deferring payments on other matters important for living for the sake of this.

    I really like this idea of mixing my ashes with a tree root ball, and planting the tree where it'll do good. This would be such a miniscule correction in the vast carbon footprint I've made, but at least it would be something.

    Plant the tree where it can do some good.

    Do that separately from any kind of remembrance ceremony. Just family and anyone else who would like to come along. I still feel the good somber weight on my shoulders as I carried my dad's ashes in a backpack into undisclosed woods at dusk, purply cool and redolent, scattering the ashes where rains would wash them into the sand.

    No rush on this part. When the time is right.

    Don't feel need to visit the tree. I won't be there. But visit the forest when you can; breathe deeply in gratitude for it.
  • Have a remembrance ceremony. Have fun, make it your fun. Have fun in spite of me; have fun for me, my reputation for fun in public being rather shoddy.

    I won't be there, except in memory, which is my idea of heaven, anyway.

    Every construct of heaven I've ever heard is — I'm sorry — boring. Reunite with loved ones in a place of bliss and light, within sight of God, and — then what? For eternity? Would we know the passing of time, sense its eternity?

    Heaven to me is the shared memory of someone, the energy burned in remembering, which ignites a smile or a longing or a moment of admiration. I see my parents, for example, in the gestures and expressions and mannerisms of others.

    An outdoors ceremony would be nice. Plenty of space out at Lake Natoma, where I swim. But it's up to you. It could be raining, you know.

    No flowers, please — such a waste! — unless they're from your garden, and only if you want to. If so, maybe toss a few upon the water, let the vague current float them away.

    I like the idea of paddle-out ceremonies, in which surfers slide out past the breakers and form a circle, tossing flowers in the center in memory of a fellow surfer. I like it because it's a ceremony for the living. Maybe this ceremony could have a swim-out, for those so inclined.

    Food? Here endeth my planning talents, though since I lean toward deli sandwiches for Thanksgiving, you know my preferences. I won't be there. Plan your own fun.
  • Have music at the ceremony — not to permeate proceedings, but more like a listening room or, if it's outdoors, some place off to the side, where people can listen to the music that weaves together my life. People can listen at their choosing, the whole thing or snippets.

    Few things connect and transport people so well as music.

    My son worked diligently to catalog most of this list on CDs (I've added a couple since) a few years back when I first thought of it. Some of the selections were hard to find, and I asked for specific versions.

    It was a time I was feeling down and dwelling heavily on these matters. No more. Now I can think of this with distance and clarity and evenness of mind.

    Do you know what snapped me out of that funk? Swimming. It saved me. Swimming is a daily affirmation of being alive, of struggle and challenge, of taking in the world through my pores, of draining away anxieties and drawing in strength.

    Music has narrated that and all my life.
  • Here's my list, for a preview, or in case you have to miss the ceremony. I'll tack on more as time goes by:
  • Theme from Batman. Nothing could keep me from my weekly appointment, even if I couldn't tell time while I explored the vast eucalyptus forests fringing Vandenberg Air Force Base. I always knew to show up to the house as the show started.
  • Silver Wings. This takes me back to a picnic table (any table) beside a lake (any lake) next to my parents' trailer. Dad supplied the music on a cassette player for camping trips, like it or lump it, and eventually we chose the former. Merle Haggard's sad song has stuck with me since, still smelling of pines and campfire.

    Most of my childhood, I thought Merle was singing about "roaring angels, heading somewhere in flight," which still made sense.
  • Looking for Space. Back when my life's ambition was to animate "The Lord of the Rings" (impossible, I decided), John Denver's est-y song ran through my mind as a theme. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Still does.
  • Someone Saved My Life . For no logical reason, Elton John's song was my junior high plea for help, Sugar Bear.
  • Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. More junior high survival music, thanks to Billy Joel; just someone else's story I needed to hear. Now you know I loved Joel and John Denver. Keep it our secret.
  • I'm Easy. The Commodores made the best road song ever. I'll be dead, so you won't be able to argue with me.
  • Soldier's Joy. Such sweet happy music, hearkening to my high school years when I played bluegrass banjo, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band made a landmark album with bluegrass greats. I imagined it was about soldiers' relief that war was over; it may be about a narcotic concoction that steeled soldiers to fight. Oh well.

    Banjo nerds: The great Earl Scruggs is three-finger picking, and John McEuen playing clawhammer.
  • Canon in D. Just close your eyes and go somewhere. I know people call this "classic lite," but who cares what people say? Since college, this version of Pachelbel by the Jean-Francois Paillard Chamber Orchestra has taken me far.
  • If I Needed You. Our song. Nancy is Emmylou Harris on the melody, I'm Don Williams with the harmony.
  • Appalachian Spring. Everyone should have a life soundtrack, however romanticized and irrelevant. Aaron Copland wrote mine. It's equal parts heartache and elation. That feeling? That's your chest swelling.
  • Downtown Train. Tom Waits came to me at just the right time, and rescued me from a mental penitentiary at work late at night, long ago. Beautiful redeeming grime, and a guitar that pierces you clean.
  • Bricklayer's Beautiful Daughter. William Ackerman made something beautiful, and serendipity found it for me. (The video of Ackerman playing is distracting, so I recommend just closing your eyes and listening.)
  • Adagio for Strings. Oliver Stone co-opted Samuel Barber's work for "Platoon" and now it's hard to divorce the two from our collective psyche. But I'm confident that with repeated listenings, it can find its rightful place in your personal sorrow.
  • Mr. Jones. The Counting Crows broke out right at another transformative time in my life, and this song will always mark that bend on the river.
  • These Are Days. The epitaph for carefree days, before our children went to school and the world seemed wide open and all of us were exploring it through their eyes. Just try not dancing to 10,000 Maniacs.
  • Caravan. Van Morrison conjures a dark winter night, warm and untroubled in a room, candles lit on the corner tables, young parents slunk in overstuffed love seats, enjoying the time of children's eventual slumber. It might conjure something else entirely for you. Enjoy however you please.
  • One. Best rock song ever. Again, you won't be able to argue the point. Any aspersions for Bono and U2 will have to be cast among the living. Let it go, let the song build in you.
  • A Comet Appears. The Shins made this beautifully tragic anthem for my comically tragic time as a schoolteacher.
  • Jesus of Suburbia. Despite having come late to Green Day — and U2, Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen — I still feel need after all these years to vent youthful anger. Let your heart beat fast.
  • Ave Maria. Not the one you're thinking of. This one by Franz Biebl beats all others to hell. Relax and soar.
  • Corduroy. Pearl Jam makes more of an imprint than I let on with this song, but let it be a gateway drug for you to listen to more.
  • Never Mind the Strangers. I'll let The Saw Doctors close the loop on this, a good song with which folks can go home happy for their living.
  • The take-away: If the circumstances of my death, whatever they will be, can help you, speak plainly about them to one another. Maybe they remind you to see a doctor regularly, or to change habits to improve your health. Don't be afraid to share. You won't offend anyone. How I go may end up being the best thing about remembering me.

    If you want to give to a cause in my name, that'd be nice. I like local food lockers, but you may have a cause you love. That'd be cool.

    A big hug with someone nearby would be nice too. Things are gonna be much better if you only will.


  1. Just the right mixture of a light heartedness and deep feeling. Lovely to read this as I drink my morning coffee and make peace with the day.

    1. thanks, john, and i return the same. your description of water's healing qualities is so eloquent.