Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Because Sometimes Funeral Planning Is Funny...

(Thanks to Jenny Hansen for this piece which was originally posted on her More Cowbell blog.)

No, I haven’t fallen off my rocker on this fine Monday morning. I’ve got my mama on my mind. You see, I gardened over the weekend, putting in about 100 daffodil bulbs. Gardening and baking are inextricably tied to my mother, since she taught me to do both.

A quick run-down about my mom, who passed away at age 65 back in January of 2004…

  • 3 words to describe her: compassionate, generous, irreverent.
  • She was completely, incredibly awesome. Really.
  • She was a tall woman (6’1″) and the first female to letter in 5 sports at her high school.
  • A nurse for 43 years, she spent much of that time in Oncology.
  • She was married to my father for less than 10 years and spent the rest of her life single.
  • Maxine cartoons remind us all of her…in our family she was known as ”the Queen of the One-Liner.” My mama was a stitch.

The night she died, we all quibbled over her Xanax stash, knowing we’d need it to get some sleep before doing all the work death involves. Any of you who’ve done this know there’s a million  important details to get through.

My brother and I had lots of help but some of the duties just naturally fell to us. We put my mom’s purse off for a day or so, but the time came to sort through it.

When we got to her wallet, we found all these slips of paper with beautiful quotes on friendship. Of course, I cried, so my brother patted me and kept going through all the other stuff she had tucked in there.

All of a sudden, he elbows me and says, “Sis…check this out,” and hands me a stack of bright orange cards.

“What is it?” I sniffled, not reaching to take them.

“Just read it!” I grabbed them, looked down, and burst out laughing (language alert here). In huge bold letters, they said:

If you fuck like you park,
you’ll never get it in.

“Oh my Jesus. She has a whole stash of these things?”

“Obviously she’s putting these on people’s cars when they piss her off.” My brother snatched them back. ”I could use these things. Do you mind if I keep ‘em?”

When I spoke to the minister later that day, he asked if I’d made decisions about what to include in my mom’s service.

I was telling him about the beautiful messages we’d found in her wallet when my brother started yelling from down the hall. “Are you going to tell him what ELSE you found in her wallet??!”

I covered the phone and yelled back. “No I’m not telling him! Are you crazy?”

I ignored all the choice comments from my Bag Whore brother and got back on the phone with the minister, apologizing for how loud my brother was.

His first words were, “So, you’re not going to tell me??”

I blushed so hard, I thought I’d faint. “I’d rather not. There’s cursing involved.”

“Oh, come on… Your mom was a spicy lady. I’d love to hear.”

Obviously he missed her as much as we did, so I told him and he busted a gut laughing.

My aunts were horrified when I relayed the conversation. At the same time, they both wailed, “YOU TOLD THE MINISTER??!” 

They all live in a fairly small town in mid-Missouri so I apologized and promised to mind my manners from there on out.

Then we got to the funeral parlor…

Like most of the big events in my family, we all showed up to offer support. I had aunts, uncles and cousins sitting alongside my brother and I. Plus, my mom’s best friend was there. We’d just gathered for my grandmother’s service the prior year, so we assumed the place was used to the likes of us.

Obviously, the previous funeral director hadn’t shared with the new guy that we travel in packs during times of need. He looked at all 14 of us and said he’d be back with more chairs.

Once we were all seated in a circle, with my brother and I on either side of Mr. Funeral Director, we hashed out the service (which involves a lot of people shouting it out when they think of it).

When we got to the end, I said, ”I know it might sound kind of morbid, but if any of you would like some of her ashes, you may have them.”

My cousin, Aaron (who was an irrepressible 30 year old at the time), looked at Mr. Funeral Man and said, “So how many ashes are we talking about?”

The funeral director looked like he’d swallowed a toad.

“Um…well. Uh, they come in plastic bag inside a hard plastic case about this big by this big.” And he moved his hands to demonstrate a 10 x 14 x 4 inch bag.

My brother reared back, looking completely offended. “That’s IT?? That’s all we get!?! She was a BIG GIRL!”

The room went completely silent. 

The funeral director’s mouth opened and closed like a guppy.

Then the snickers started…

They spread around the room until we were all laughing so hard we couldn’t stop.

My uncle (who’d been in the restroom) came FLYING into the room. “You guys need to CUT IT OUT. There’s people crying and grieving out there and you’re in here laughing and carrying on.”

He turned to the funeral director and shook his hand. “Thank you for your time. We need to GO.” He sent the lot of us a stern look that promised we’d be sorry if we didn’t STOP LAUGHING.

I swear, we tried. We just couldn’t stop.

We stumbled out of the funeral home, clutching our sides and gasping for breath, running for our cars so we could collapse in private. Then we all toddled off to lunch at my mom’s favorite burger joint and laughed some more.

Here’s what I know, all these years later: My mother watched us giggle our way through most of her funeral arrangements and, wherever she was, she LOVED it. I wouldn’t go back and change any of it.

Well, except for keeping her here so she could make me laugh that hard in person.


  1. Thanks for enjoying my post, Allen! Love the jellybean background. :-)

  2. My brother-in-law was terminally ill, and living far away, we were not surprised when the call came announcing his funeral. His wife, my wife's sister, told my wife that the funeral would be on Saturday, of this week, at the church that they had attended. When my wife asked, "What time?" the sister said, "Well that depends." "Depends on what?" my wife asked. "Well we're not exactly sure because he hasn't died yet." He actually lived another two weeks.

  3. OMG! That was a really great story...can't wait to try that line out...about parking..lol. Very good. People who don't understand why we memorialize our dead like we do here in America typically don't get that the whole thing..the service and tributes, etc. is for OURSELVES. The proper send-off, mingled with memories of good times shared together SHOULD be something worth celebrating when we gather to mourn our lost loved one and get on with the work of grief and mourning. We are all much better off doing so, in the long run.

  4. “My mother watched us giggle our way through most of her funeral arrangements and, wherever she was, she LOVED it. I wouldn’t go back and change any of it.” Aw. As they say, laughter is the best medicine for pain. And yes, I think your mother wanted you to laugh, and somehow take things lightly.

    Margo Loveless

  5. Honestly, I just love this story. My brother is terminally ill and I just know that when we plan his funeral, we will end up experiencing something like this because he is just such a funny and irreverent person. It's nice that you told this story and brought up the happy memories people can experience in the wake of a loss. People are usually so focused on being sad that they forget the reasons they miss the person in the first place. My family and I are going to start pre-planning certain funeral arrangements for everyone so that if and when it does happen, we can focus more on remembering the joy instead of planning all the details of a sad event.

    Jane | http://www.morrisnilsen.com/prearrangement/

  6. Jane, love that you are pre-planning the joy. What a great idea.