30 Funerals in 30 Days

by MSO

Gail Rubin is the author of "A Good Goodbye" and will be providing a regular column at mysendoff.com.

I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. After 30 funerals in 30 days, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

No, my circle of family and friends has not been decimated. As The Doyenne of Death, I undertook the 30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge for three reasons:

1.To illustrate the many creative ways people celebrate the lives of those they love.

2.To help reduce a fear of talking about death, something that will happen to all of us.

3.To show that funerals are a life cycle event much like a wedding, best planned more than a few days ahead of time.

I picked events to cover by reading the obituaries and selecting the most interesting ones that worked within my schedule. Between attending the event and writing up the stories for The Family Plot blog, this project took up three hours a day, every day, for an entire month. I am eager to get this significant chunk of time back.

The ages of the deceased ranged from 25 to 90. Some deaths were expected. Many were unexpected. Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, Jewish, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ were among the religious services, and there were plenty of non-religious events.

Early on, there was Howard Strunk’s memorial luncheon at a bowling alley bar. Josie the bartender put it together because Howard’s wife didn’t want to have a funeral for him. Memorial services are for community, not just the family.

Sam Baxter’s celebration at Balloon Fiesta Park took the cake for funeral of the month. He brought the Adams family of balloons to New Mexico in the 1980s. As his first two Adams balloons stood tethered, the several hundred assembled let fly a raft of multi-colored helium balloons. Then more than two-dozen hot air balloons took flight on a perfect day for flying, followed by a tailgate party of grand proportions.

Erika Langholf’s celebration of life was exactly that. The event at a funeral home chapel combined laughter and tears, with many stories told by family and friends. She was born in 1958, which is also the year of my birth. The music reflected the era we both came of age, including Queen, Rod Stewart, Journey, and, reflective of Erika’s killer sense of humor, “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum.

There were also the “facelift funerals.” These events follow the form of a funeral. However, they don’t touch the heart, they are just skin-deep. The only connection to the deceased was the reading of the obituary. These events featured “rent-a-ministers” who did not know the deceased, and admitted it!

Yet, even within the confines of an established ritual, funerals can be personalized. Lonnie Chavez‘s funeral at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church followed the form for a funeral Mass. As soon as I walked into the church, I could tell he was a Dallas Cowboys fan, casket, blue star, pallbearers and deceased in football jerseys. What a way to ride off into the sunset.

Yes, I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and am glad to have gotten through it. And I’m pleased to be a new columnist for MySendOff.com!

A bit about me: I’m an event planner, Certified Celebrant, and author of A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. I use humor to start serious funeral planning conversations, including talks illustrated with clips from funny films and emceeing couples playing “The Newly-Dead Game”.

But it’s not all fun and games. I’m a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling and the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association. I’m also a member of our local Chevrah Kaddisha, volunteers who wash and dress bodied for burial in the Jewish tradition and I serve on the cemetery committee for my synagogue.

This was my second 30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge. Among the most memorable services in 2010 were two pews of Red Hat Society ladies in full regalia, a Harley Davidson motorcycle in a funeral chapel, an artist’s remembrance that featured her favorite lemon meringue pie, an AA meeting-style remembrance for an addiction counselor, and a funeral for a fallen police officer.

Talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, and talking about funerals won’t make you dead, and your family benefits from the conversation. It may be an awkward conversation to start, but as Mary Poppins sang, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, in a most delightful way!”

By Gail Rubin

 

 

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