Thursday, September 26, 2013

Helping Friends Pick Funeral Music

There seem to be two types of funerals.

One is the kind that makes us cringe, may even make us angry. It’s where the person leading the service never met the person who died. It’s obvious – they ramble on in general, pious terms. They mispronounce the deceased’s name. Times like those I want to walk up to the front, say “shut up and sit down” and invite friends and family to do a better job.

Then there are those we never forget. I’ve been to a few, where the eulogies made us laugh, made us cry, and even made us give standing ovations. And the music…well, the music makes all the difference.

I remember walking into my friend Delle’s apartment a few weeks before she died. “Do you want to see my urn?” she asked. Honestly, I didn’t: I didn’t want to think about the inevitable. But she showed it to me anyway: a gorgeous, cobalt blue (her favorite color). She was, when I got there, choosing the music for her funeral.

Now not everyone has the luxury of time to plan their own funeral, once they know they’re dying. That’s why I’m becoming more and more insistent that my family and friends think about this now.

There are as many different kinds of funerals as there are people: religious, secular, sad, celebratory, indoors, outdoors. And for a control freak like me, it’s one last chance to be in charge.

So here’s a question for you, the next time you’re with your best friend:

What kind of music do you want at your funeral?

Use this blog post as an excuse, or maybe refer to the funeral of a mutual friend. While there are many hymns I like (and a couple are on my list of instructions), there are some decidedly non-religious ones that I like. Who can forget Alex’s funeral at the beginning of The Big Chill:

In a very unscientific poll on Facebook, Eileen suggested that one right away. Annie preferred to go in a slightly different – though somewhat obvious direction:

I popped a cd in the car yesterday (Paul McCartney’s “Memory Almost Full”) and was reminded of this one:

Then again, you may want to end with a little humor, like this oldie from Norman Greenbaum, which my friend Mary and I both like:

Whatever you choose, whatever you and your friends agree on, doesn’t matter. What matters is that you begin to think about how you want to be remembered.

Part of that is your legacy: what do you leave behind? Did you leave the world a better place?

The other is your funeral: did you give your friends one last way to remember you?

Cue the music.


What’s on your play list?


Here’s my top pick:


jimeigo said...

In the early 1990s I was going frequently to AIDS memorial services. None I attended was more fraught with emotion for many of us than the service for Vito Russo. Vito had been an important gay activist from the Stonewall era, had written The Celluloid Closet (one of a few handful of the most important works of gay history—and it’s fun!) and late in life, when challenged by HIV, had assumed a major roll in the early days of ACT UP. (Disclaimer: Vito Russo convinced me to work on treatment issues with ACT UP.) His memorial service, in the Grand Hall of Cooper Union—where Abe Lincoln made the speech that gained him national attention—felt like a state occasion. His friends and colleagues were emotional wrecks. The carefully orchestrated service had us ping-ponging between elation and despair. And then in a few moments of utter purity and clarity that seemed to gather all the day’s emotions into one, and to almost approach some kind of resolution, the service stopped for a recording of the Bernstein / Comden / Green song, “Some Other Time.” I believe it was Comden and Green singing it. The version I am linking to is not that one. But for the singer’s controlled, concentrated emotion—he’s singing it for someone close to him who has recently died—this version seemed right for the occasion. --Jim Eigo

Friend Grief said...

Oh, wow, Jim, what a beautiful song. I don't think I've ever heard it before, but I won't forget it any time soon.

At that same time period, as I was getting ready for my wedding, my Dad wanted us to have our first dance to "Wind Beneath My Wings". I couldn't do it. To me, it was the AIDS National Anthem: it seemed to be played at every single funeral and memorial service I attended for years. I never said no to him, except this time.

Years later, when he died, it was the only song at his funeral.

Of course, I never met Vito Russo, though I knew about him, and learned much more after he died. Thanks for reminding me to read his book.

Unknown said...

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Colin Brown said...

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