My dad paid for his own funeral, upfront, probably years in advance of the actual event. And he chose the budget plan. A thrifty man, he elected to zing his way into eternity, tourist class. Box and burn.
Which made his kids an easy mark for the funeral director.
“Your father made no provisions for a pillow, so his head will, ahem, rest on a hard surface, until, ahem, the cremation, unless you instruct us otherwise.”
Oh for god's sake, we said, give the man a pillow. And silk sheets? Oh yes, give him some sheets. And yes, yes, we said, a blanket, an armrest, a bookcase, and whatever else this vampira threw our way. For all I know, we ok’d a TV, walnut writing desk, swimming pool, and recessed lighting.
The pillow alone was like $100, and it strikes me now we could have just brought a pillow from home. Although I’m sure there would have been a surcharge for using our own pillow, something akin to a corkage fee.
Dad: 0; Kids: 1
Dad had also apparently scored a good deal for a slot in the Mausoleum next to my mom, who had died years earlier. This appalled my sister, who instead insisted we buy two gravesites on her San Juan Island, in a spot overlooking the ocean, and order two tombstones to be carved out of red granite imported from Norway.
Dad: 0; Kids: 2
But Dad left no instructions as to funeral music, nothing for us to override. Music had played a limited role in his life – I don’t recall he listened to anything other than the occasional Grieg, marching band, or, for some unfathomable reason, the soundtrack to Evita. So we, his children, had to kick around various possibilities, dismissing Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, because we had every faith Argentina wasn't, and had no intention of doing so. So that left us with either Peer Gynt or a marching band. We settled on Sousa. Brass band, woodwinds, drums, cymbals, the works.
And it was the best decision we ever made.
When it comes to funerals, and if you’re in charge of arrangements, be very careful about the music you choose. Because once played at the funeral, you’re effectively removing that piece from your life forever.
But a Sousa march? Remove it, the sooner the better. A Sousa march would never sabotage any of us when we’d least expect it – say, at a restaurant, or in the car, on the radio, when driving home from Santa Barbara late at night. In fact, the only person in our whole lives who had ever played a Sousa march was, yes, our father.
Though the sniffling funeral crowd looked startled, even shocked, leaving the church to the beat of Dum-dum-da-da-da, Da-da-da-da-da-da!, we felt we’d done the right thing.
We owed it to Dad, what with the pillow and all.