Recently a friend of mine started asking questions about cremation . . . not the process but how to handle the before and after stuff . . . like can you have a visitation and then have the cremation. “Of course you can”, I replied. “There are all kinds of options” and then I began my list: Cremation with a visitation beforehand, cremation with a visitation and a service beforehand, cremation with the family receiving friends after the fact, cremation followed by a memorial service . . .
The possibilities are endless. Almost.
He nodded as I worked my way through the options and then, as I drew said options to a close with the endless possibility observation, said, “I was just trying to figure out how to navigate the visitation thing since I don’t want my wife to have to go out and buy a suit.”
In my head I wasn’t whating over the fact that he must not own a suit. I was whating over the need for one. So I asked. “What do you normally wear?” and he motioned to what he had on. Jeans and a T-shirt. No problem. If that’s what you normally wear, then use that. He looked a bit surprised, so I told him the story of Elvin Williams.
For those not in the know, Elvin ran a service station that sat on Main Street next door to the old funeral home (the one with the now rented apartment and possible ghosts). I think he ran it for at least a hundred years—and drove a school bus. Anytime you saw Elvin, he had on his coveralls with a tire gauge stuck in his pocket. When he died very unexpectedly, his family walked through our doors to make his funeral arrangements . . . carrying his coveralls on a coat hanger. With his tire gauge stuck in the pocket.
I was so excited.
That’s all anyone ever saw Elvin Williams wear, and to put him in anything else would have been a travesty. His wife looked at me as if to apologize for their choice but before she could I assured her she had chosen wisely.
Then there was the gentleman who had a pair of bright red, high-top Converse tennis shoes. He loved his shoes and he was so proud of them, so when he died his family wanted those shoes on him, but they also wanted everyone to know those shoes were on him. So we ordered a full-couch casket (yes, one of those where the entire lid opens, from head to toe)—and the world could see for themselves the magnificence of his shoes.
The whole idea was to impress upon my friend that your service needs to be a reflection of who you are while meeting the needs of the ones left behind. Sometimes, that’s a tall order. But sometimes, a reflection of your life is exactly what the family needs as they say good-bye. And since we’re all so very different, maybe our farewell parties should be, too.
His final observation was a common one—he didn’t want his service, in whatever form it might be, to be depressing. He wanted something uplifting and celebratory. So I told him what’s gonna happen when my husband shuffles off this mortal coil—and if Death has other ideas and I’m not around to see that it does, I’m pretty sure the kids will. When the service ends, his casket will be rolled out to “Rocky Top” and, as the hearse moves slowly at the head of the procession, the windows will be rolled down and “Another One Bites The Dust” will be blaring. Throw in a few Three Stooges jokes and a clip from “Young Frankenstein” and he’s good to go. Literally. And if you think there’s anything irreverent or disrespectful about any of that . . . well, then you don’t know Joe Thomas. As for me? I’ve told them all to just roll me in about five minutes after the service starts.
‘Twill be appropriate.