Sha na na na sha na na na hey hey hey goodbye
Today’s post is a miscellany constructed from items – not all of them eulogies but each offering a significant thought about or insight into the memorialization of one recently deceased – found (or remembered) during the past week’s Heck of a Guy Heck of a Eulogy project.
Charles Bukowski’s Just Right “Eulogy To A Hell Of A Dame”
Eulogy To A Hell Of A Dame
By Charles Bukowski
some dogs who sleep At night
must dream of bones
and I remember your bones
in that dark green dress
and those high-heeled bright
you always cursed when you drank,
your hair coming down you
wanted to explode out of
what was holding you:
rotten memories of a
you finally got
leaving me with the
you’ve been dead
yet I remember you
better than any of
you were the only one
the futility of the
all the others were only
Jane, you were
knowing too much.
here’s a drink
to your bones
An Ovation At The Final Finale
From Prarie Home Companion – Post To The Host
I was at a funeral recently for a long-time Chicago theatre producer. Apparently, when you’re in the theatre and you die, people give you a standing ovation and cheer, like, “hey, great job in this life. Now, go on to your next show!” Well, there were the first few awkward seconds of the ovation—as many were not familiar with the tradition and were apprehensive about clapping. The person who started this ovation yelled, “Way to go, Tony!” and started his slow loud clap. But once people caught on, they really cheered. I really hope people do this for me. I would invite you to mine but I’m only 32 and I hope not to die for a while. You’re a few years older than I am … so, if you go before I do, I’d be more than happy to start the clapping off for you. But, hopefully, that won’t be for a while either.
Well, all my best to you and your endeavors.
If you should attend my funeral rites, Chicago Jenny, you’ll be very brave if you start clapping. And you shouldn’t expect other people to follow. I’ll probably expire right here in St. Paul and these people know me much too well and aren’t about to give me a standing O. They’ll figure I got enough cheap praise in life and now it’s time to face the music. That’s why I’ve specified no eulogy. I don’t want somebody to have the job of embroidering a big fanciful account of my life. But it’s awfully generous of you to offer to attend. You’re the first person to mention this.
Peter Sellers Selects Mood Music
From Comment To Above Post:
In this regard, I think Peter Sellers had it right. He used “In The Mood” as the music at his cremation. Apparently, he hated it, but could not think of a more incongruous tune for the occasion. Attendees record that it replaced tears of sorrow with those of utter hilarity.
Some people just know how to make an exit.
Maybe It’s Not Perfect – But It’s A Pretty Good Eulogy
From The perfect eulogy: Short, sweet and honest by Crag Wilson. USA Today 10/26/2004
Charlie Matthau eulogizes his father, actor Walter Matthau, in August 2000:
“My father taught me to have a sense of humor about everything, no matter how sad — not to take life too seriously because none of us is getting out of here alive, and little of what we do is going to matter in a few years. I remember him telling me about the funeral where everyone hated the deceased and nobody knew what to say, so the eulogist got up there and said, ‘Well … his brother was worse.’ It’s the opposite of the situation we have today.”
I didn’t give the eulogy at my dad’s funeral. I couldn’t rise to the occasion, no matter how much I wanted to. I saw no purpose in standing up there and blubbering away, making everyone uncomfortable, so I let the minister do the honors while I sat in silence, thinking of everything I should have been saying. I regret that decision now, but I still believe it was the right one at the time.
After the funeral, I was going through my father’s wallet and found a scrap of paper folded between his driver’s license and credit cards. It was a small note written by me years ago, a note I stuck into a Father’s Day card. I had no idea he had carried it around in his back pocket for 30 years.
“Dad — When I succeeded you stood back and took no credit, and when I failed you were by my side. What more could a son ask? Love, Craig.”
I like to think of that as my eulogy. Short. Honest. And better yet, he got to enjoy it.
Reading Ones Own Eulogy – Kinda
Alan Tudyk, the actor who played Hoban “Wash” Washburne on Firefly, the TV series considered by its sizable contingent of fans to be the greatest Sci-Fi program of all time, reads the winning entry in the DragonCon 2006 Eulogy Contest. The eulogy is for his character, Wash, who dies near the end of the 2005 film, Serenity (a sequel to Firefly), when a harpoon launched by a Reaver ship impales him, killing him instantly.
Even if you don’t know anything about the story line, even if you detest Sci-Fi, even if eulogies aren’t your thing, this video is worth watching. [Alert: the camera work is a bit shaky, especially as the performance becomes funnier]
Churchill’s Precisely Right, Comforting Words In Honor Of King George VI
From King George VI Eulogy: ‘For Valour’-King George VI, In Remembrance of His Late Majesty, given by Winston Churchill
During these last months the King walked with death as if death were a companion, an acquaintance whom he recognized and did not fear. In the end death came as a friend, and after a happy day of sunshine and sport, and after “good night” to those who loved him best, he fell asleep as every man or woman who strives to fear God and nothing else in the world may hope to do.
Robertson Davies Writes The Consummate Epitaph For Robertson Davies
From Madeleines From … Reading The Cunning Man
I am a fan of Robertson Davies, the Canadian novelist, playwright, and journalist, who died in 1995. My favorite tribute to Davies at the time of his death was an elegant newspaper advertisement placed by Penguin Books, Davies’ publisher in paperback. The advertisement was quite simple, consisting of a photograph of Davies, the dates of his birth and death, and the final paragraph of The Cunning Man, his last completed novel:
…this is the Great Theatre of Life. Admission is free but the taxation is mortal. You come when you can, and leave when you must. The show is continuous. Good-night.
Great But Sometimes Difficult Recommendations A Memorable Funeral
From On The Event of My Death, or: why the winner of Malagasy Idol will sing at my funeral
About a year and a half ago, I started to notice an irritating stabbing pain in my chest. It wasn’t so bad that it felt like a sultan thrusting a scimitar into my torso or anything, but it was still painful enough to stop me in my tracks. I could feel it when I breathed in really deeply, when I sneezed, when I bent over to tie my shoes, when I exercised, or if I spread my arms out to hug my wife. Now, I lived with a smoker for a good twenty years (since infanthood, even), and second-hand airborne carcinogens were part of my daily diet. Despite never having smoked a day in my life, I had been exposed to enough toxic chemicals to kill one horse per week. Needless to say, I put two-and-two together, and decided that I had contracted lung cancer.
I immediately went to the doctor, who ordered a series of goofy x-rays and chest exams. Days and days went by, during which I was held hostage by the constant possibility of lethal disease and impending death. On the day my wife told me she was pregnant, my only response was a sad, flippant “Well… name the baby after ME, then.” Now, I know that a diagnosis of a malignant tumour doesn’t guarantee an automatic demise at a young age, but it really did put me in touch with my mortality, and got me thinking about a lot of morbid things – like my eventual funeral.
Fast forward to a month ago, when I drove out to Montreal to attend a funeral. Not the happiest of occasions, I know – but the funeral was interestingly conducted in two languages I don’t speak – French, and Malagasy. Don’t get me wrong, I was able to pick up a few phrases here and there – “La vie est fragile,” I was able to decipher, and “Le mot ‘adieu’… ‘a’ et ‘dieu’” I pieced together as well (er, pardon my spelling errors). Basically, I sat quietly at the back of the church as one of the only white people in attendance (me, the Minister, and a few other clearly-not-born-in-Madagascar-folks) and observed for the entire 90-minute service. I can take away several things from the entire adventure, and add it to my ever-growing list of funeral-related experiences from which I will cull a general outline for MY eventual funeral (you’ll find the outline elements in bold as we go).
The first funeral I remember going to was back when I must have been between the ages of six to nine. My parents’ friends had adopted two children, and then found themselves pregnant with ‘their own’ kid who wasn’t expected to live very long due to gestational issues (or something). The baby was born with some pretty awful deformities (keep in mind that this is all remembered via the mind of my very young self), and died two or three months into his tragically short life. The turnout for the funeral was massive. We’re talkin’, like… hundreds of people. The reception was in some sort of stone-encrusted building that looked like the hall at the end of Star Wars where Luke and Han receive their medals. I’m sure it was different, but that’s how I remember it.
1. Hold ceremony in a room reminiscent of a set from Star Wars.
The two adopted children, themselves even younger than I was, were each given a balloon to hold during the ceremony, and when the casket was buried, they each symbolically let the balloons go. I definitely remember people being confused and weirded out by the presence of the balloons, which were also used as decorations. For the sake of the kids in attendance, the funeral was to be a beautiful celebration of life, and not a miserable rumination on death. I think that’s pretty cool.
2. Decorate funeral with colourful party balloons.
I have to leap ahead several years to remember my next funeral, which occurred when I was in the tenth grade. I remember skipping a day of High School (which included the dreaded math class) to drive three hours north to cottage country, where the owner of the resort my family vacationed at every summer had passed away. His funeral was jam-packed to the gills with people – and it was in a pretty small church. My family had been going to this guy’s resort for generations, and so there was a familial connection. Plus, my Dad is also a writer, so they had him do the eulogy. Let me tell you – he brought the place down. Not with sadness, mind you, but with humour. My Dad wrote and recited the world’s funniest eulogy ever, and to this day people still stop him on the street to compliment him on it. Talk about a way to relieve the tension in a ‘tough room.’ I can’t remember much of it, but I distinctly recall Dad mentioning the departed’s notoriously loud sneeze in the piece.
3. Make sure the eulogy is funny and mentions sneezing.
Once again, we leap ahead several years. Another elderly family friend, this time an immigrant from Mauritius. Here was a guy who got married when he was thirteen years old, and had seven (eight?) kids, brought them all to the frozen wastes of Canada, and lived in a teeny tiny house with most of them just off of the Danforth. I think there were fewer people in attendance at the ceremony than lived in his home on a daily basis, but it made for a pleasant and intimate gathering – but part of me thinks that a guy who lived such an amazing life should have had more people at his funeral. Oh well, whatever. One thing that really sticks out in my head is when his wife, who missed her best friend so badly, threw herself onto his coffin in a fit of pathos. That made everyone really sad – understandable, but the antithesis of the funeral I’d like for myself.
4. Widow-proof glass / a sneeze-guard must be installed around my casket.
A few years later, the widow passed on as well. By the time she went, however, some of their eight children had families of their own, and some of THOSE families had families. Needless to say, there were tons of kids running amok at the funeral. Also, way more invitations went out to way more people – as a result, you had a lot of folks being re-united, a lot of family members meeting for the first time… it was more a social gathering than a funeral. I for one forgot why I was even there, I was so happy to see so many familiar faces.
5. Invite lots of long-lost friends, and have rooms reserved for pleasant socializing.
When my Mom’s brother died, his will revealed that he didn’t want a funeral at all – just a small, intimate social gathering for family and friends. I remember it being a bit odd – my brother and I got there late (I got lost in Richmond Hill), and by the time we arrived most of the attendees had already gone. My Uncle’s Wife, whom I haven’t seen or heard from since, seemed completely stunned and shocked. But can you blame her? Her husband died when he was what, in his sixties?
6. If possible, schedule the funeral for a few weeks after the terrible shock of my death has worn off. I won’t be getting any less dead.
And another thing – if you meet long-lost relatives or friends at a funeral or a wake or a cremation or whatever, keep in mind that you’re celebrating someone’s life, and you’re making connections and stronger bonds with grieving parties or old chums. That’s not a license to suddenly vanish from one-another’s lives as soon as the body is six feet under. I’m sure the deceased parties would want it that way.
7. Make sure there’s an email registry/sign-up thing, and plan future funeral-related engagements.
On my nineteenth birthday I learned of the death of a school friend, who had died in a horrible car wreck. She and I weren’t best friends or anything, but we got along really well and were both in the high school musical together (which, some of you will know, is like being in the army or a prisoner of war camp). I chose not to go to this funeral for two very basic reasons. First off, she was very popular both in school and in the local Christian community. I imagined thousands upon thousands of people lining up to make it into her funeral, and from what I’ve heard, I was right – they had to set up closed-circuit televisions broadcasting the ceremony for those who had to wait in the lobby, the bathrooms, or the parking lot. Second, I had my first day of Frosh Week scheduled for the day of the funeral. I don’t regret my decision… I believe in collective cathartic grieving, but only to a certain extent.
8. Cap the attendance at 1000 – perhaps the wristband policy should be in effect.
…and besides, I didn’t know her very well, and a lot of people who knew her or her family even less than I did made sure they had front-row seats. Now, I’m not saying that there should be wedding-style seating plans at a funeral, but in the case of a high-profile, big and crazy funeral (which mine probably won’t be, so the point is a bit moot), I’d rather the ‘big ones’ – my wife, daughter, parents, dog, dentist, etc – should get preferential treatment.
9. Reserved seating for blood relatives and pets.
A family friend’s funeral, held just a few years ago, was another large one up in Richmond Hill. As a young woman she escaped Iran when the Shah was deposed, and brought her family to Canada. She didn’t speak a word of English, but managed to make friends with virtually anyone she ever met. When I was a baby, my Mom would bring me over to her house and teach me to read and talk from picture books… and this sweet woman would recite the lessons with me (“Book”, “Baby”, “Ball”, “Banana”, etc). She was a very beloved woman who survived an awful lot in her life, and had a big family to show for it, too. There were hundreds in attendance, and especially the delegation from the Persian community. I don’t know if any of you reading this have had the pleasure of hearing Persian chanting, but if you haven’t, for goodness’s sake, do yourself a favour and crash a Persian funeral.
10. Invite the Persian community, and arrange for some chanting.
Finally, we’re back to the funeral I mentioned at the top of this article. This woman was thirty years old, a mother to a six-year old, and the wife of one of my very good friends. Their families were primarily living in Madagascar, and as such very few relatives could attend the funeral across the ocean in Montreal. What appeared to be the entire Malagasy population of Quebec attended however, to show their support, and I think a few of my friend’s co-workers put in appearances. When he lived in Toronto, we worked together for several years, along with a handful of other fellas. To say we were a close, tight group was an understatement (Still, I was the only one who didn’t have anything better to do than to go to his wife’s funeral). I know my attendance surprised him, and I really hope it comforted him – lord knows what he was going through. A funeral can be a surreal, strange thing at the best of times, happening smack in the middle of the most awful, tragic moments of your life. To show support – in person – is the LEAST a real friend can do. I’m not just saying that because I was mad that I was the only one who drove out there – I was mad because his other ‘friends’ (who I’m not ready to forgive on his behalf, even though I’m sure they’ll have good explanations) couldn’t be bothered.
11. My wife’s best friends MUST attend and comfort her, and will be escorted to the ceremony at gunpoint if necessary. Don’t leave her hangin’.
My favourite part of this funeral was when the #1 Malagasy recording artist working in the French Canadian industry rocked the Yamaha electronic keyboard and performed a really off-key love song – something about ‘la nuit’ and ‘les yeux’ and ‘je t’aime’. It wasn’t sung in any scale recognizable to my ears. But still, it was sweet and I at least found it humorous – he was really belting that song, singing at the top of his lungs, decked out in gold chains and a white turtleneck. He high-fived the gaggle of wiggly pre-teen girls as he returned to his pew, and I couldn’t help but notice that the Minister seemed to be finding it as oddly surreal as I did. Nothing says ‘funeral’ like synthesized violins. Honestly – that guy quite accidentally brought the tension level down through his awful rendition of that song. Unintentionally brilliant.
12. Hire the #1 Malagasy recording artist working in the French Canadian Music Industry to sing whatever he wants.
Now, when I’m dead, I probably won’t give a rat’s patoot what goes on in the land of the living (at least in regards to my funeral). I don’t need to be buried in a ten thousand dollar casket – a cardboard box will suffice, or for irony’s sake, a comic book bag-and-board combo. Just to be dead AND funny, I’d like to be buried on the exact spot where my soul vacates my body (which will be even funnier should I die on an airplane). From the above list, you can see that I’ve managed a quick list of pointers, but seriously, if they aren’t followed, what am I gonna do about it? Haunt those responsible? Basically, my funeral should be a celebration of my life, or of life in general. Eat, drink soda, and be merry. See old friends. Give my wife a hug. Have a few laughs. Be there for one another. It’s what I’d want if I was there.
As for my cancer scare – turns out that while weight lifting, I had torn the cartilage connecting my sternum to my ribs… a rare injury that can usually be prevented by NOT wildly ‘windmilling’ your arms in order to stretch beforehand. That, and high cholesterol. No surgery required – I just needed to take ‘er easy, and avoid strapping anvils to my chest. But hey, a brush with mortality is always good for the ego, right?
- Evan Long