Wednesday, June 04, 2008

There will be NO doves at my funeral

So I have to do two memorial services next week and, as always, working on service planning makes me re-visit the many services I've attended and remember all the things I DO NOT WANT to have happen at mine. Whenever it happens. A non-exhaustive list which will, hopefully, be informative to those who have not considered the truly remarkable things relatives and friends WILL come up with to honor the deceased.

1. Doves. There is a company in my city that consists of a guy, a truck, a portable stereo, a microphone, a speaker on a tripod, and some number of white doves. For a fee, he will appear at your event (wedding, funeral, Arbor Day picnic, whatever) and perform a Ritual of the Doves. For funerals, there are several choices, with prices increasing with the number of white doves involved. The guy reads an explanation of the significance of the white dove (which I can't remember), reads a really maudlin prayer/blessing, releases the agreed-upon number of doves, and plays a song. "On the wings of a dove??" I can't remember that either despite having heard it a number of times. The last of these I saw, the survivors had chosen the "Holy Trinity" package. For this, the Dove Guy brings 4 white doves. One dove, representing the spirit of the deceased, is handed to the closest survivor to hold while the maudlin blessing and prayer (which does sort of go on) is read. The other three (for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, of course, and OF COURSE only male language is used, eh) are released first, and then the survivor releases the fourth "when he/she is ready to let go of the loved one." I think you can see how this could go terribly, terribly badly. In some families that fourth dove would be taken home and put in a cage in the front room and stuffed and kept there through the generations after its own demise. In others, the poor bird would be squashed flat as a pancake in seconds due to unconscious, unresolved feelings re: the spirit of the deceased. At the last Ritual of the Doves I attended, the day was really REALLY cold. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, released from their traveling carrier, blasted off like bats out of hell (or maybe bats out of International Falls, MN, in January) and could not be seen after the first .5 seconds. The fourth dove was released after a tasteful pause of another second, and it too vanished from sight in no time. Those poor doves wanted warmth and shelter and really all you could see was a flurry of wings. Not too impressive. Plus all the funeral attendees had to get up from the chapel and GO OUTSIDE IN THE COLD to watch the release. Now, I know lots of people who derive profound meaning and comfort from the Ritual of the Doves, but I don't, not so much, so no doves at my funeral.

2. Open mic. It has become popular to leave an interval in memorial services so that "anyone who would like to share a (brief) memory" can come forward and lay claim to the microphone. No, no, no. This is NOT a good idea. I mean, it might be fine if your crowd of mourners were all quiet, polite, tasteful people with strong inhibitions about speaking in front of others. You might hear some sweet memories about how much the deceased loved family or church or Rocky Road ice cream. BUT, and it is a big BUT, the crowd of mourners is not always of like mind on what constitutes proper disclosure, and sometimes there are folk there who either talk too much under stress or have agendas of their own. And oh my heavens, can things get hot then. I have heard way too many well-substantiated stories of how things that should NEVER HAVE BEEN SAID AT ALL were blabbed at the open mic. Like, lovers coming out of the woodwork, presenting themselves to the family members who are now horrified as well as bereaved. Or people purporting to speak for the deceased offering a little Final Honesty ("And, to his parents, I just wanted to say that he always resented you for the ways you treated his brother better..."), or people of strong belief that is nonetheless not shared by the deceased or family, nattering endlessly on about how they are just SURE that Aunt Edith really DID accept Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior despite the fact that she went to synagogue every Saturday. Nope. No open mic at my funeral.

3. Star Trek. Yes, it is true, some folks do live and die by Star Trek. My former supervising pastor officiated at a Star Trek-themed funeral. The open casket featured the deceased in uniform, and a loop of apparently-relevant snippets from Star Trek episodes played endlessly through the gathering. The pastor was somewhat nonplussed that the loop was not stopped during his homily, but gosh. Sorry, but no Star Trek.

4. Nude pictures in the photo montage. If there should ever be someone in my life with whom I enjoy getting nude and taking pictures, I truly hope that person will not need to share said pictures with whomever turns up at the funeral. No matter HOW MUCH they want to remember me naked (and truly I cannot imagine ANYONE wanting to remember me naked--quite the opposite I should say). It adds an extra edge to a service when the officiant has to watch the relatives closely to be sure that no one is experiencing a Coronary Event from viewing the photo montage. No nakeds. None.

5. Video footage of me on my deathbed. Yup, have seen this one. Video footage of the deceased looking quite poorly discoursing on the Bible quotes to be read at the service. Please. If I want particular quotes and particular interpretations I'll write it down. No video. No video RECORDED, to say nothing of played at the funeral.

5. Tschotchkes of mine, wrapped in wrapping paper, handed out to the attendees. Look, whoever has to cope with all my crap, just hire a rolloff and dump all that stuff, OK? You don't want it, fine, but foisting it off on folks coming to the memorial is tacky, plain and simple. I think it must be a beloved custom somewhere in the country, because the one time I saw this practice, most folks took it in stride and thought it sweet, while I stood in the back thinking GOOD GOD, are these people CRAZY?

6. Altar calls. No, no, no thank you. My demise is my demise, not a chance to make a random and scruffy bunch of strangers feel guilty about their relationship, or lack thereof, with their Personal Lord and Savior. No. That's a cheap shot and it SCARES PEOPLE.

And that's enough for tonight. For our next lesson, we'll talk about the inadvisability of incorporating certain types of music into the service. For instance, the Schubert Ave Maria. Sung by amateurs. Oh, no, no. None of that. Also no puppets. God created the stereo system so that neither of these ploys need ever be mentioned again.