I’ve started penning my own eulogy. And I genuinely enjoy it.
Okay, right there I’ve come across like some zitfaced emo kid who’s obsessed with death and crying out for attention because all the girls just want to be friends and his dad is never home to play catch with him but I swear that’s not even close to where this is going. Just hear me out. I’m not dying, I’m not planning on dying, I don’t have a feeling like I’m going to be dying soon and I honestly don’t even think about death that often at all. I’m not going through another depression, either. I promise. In fact, everything is really wonderful right now.
But, since I’ve had my daughter, I’ve had to start taking into consideration that I’m probably not going to be on this physical plane forever and I’ve had to make arrangements to accommodate her needs once I’m no longer around – something that I really hope doesn’t happen until I’ve had a chance to travel the world with her and my husband. (Being a “grown up” means having crappy responsibilities like making game plans for after your demise. Gross.) Since I have nothing but a guitar given to me by a Grammy award winner/Broadway star and some jewelry to leave to her, my legal list of post-mortem gifts is pretty short. My list of demands for my carcass’s maintenance is equally short, merely requesting that it be cremated and disposed of somewhere pretty and non-urban. (And if anyone spends money on a piece of furniture and a hole to plant me in, I will haunt them in the most annoying ways possible, every day of their remaining lives. The same goes for anyone who puts an “In Memory Of” sticker on their car for me or puts flowers on the place where I bit it – roadside accident locations, etc. – or posts their sentiments on my Facebook wall instead of sending my family a note or pairs my name with the abbreviation “RIP” in any forum. I’m not even kidding. I’ll go through poltergeist training and wreak some Spielberg-quality havoc.)
And then I started thinking about funerals and getting weirded out. The whole idea of everyone getting together and crying over my remains (hopefully ashes at that point) and saying nothing but great things about me and acting way more reverent than they ever would in my presence just seems so incredibly pretentious and phony. Not to mention a total drag.
But what I hated the most about the idea of my own funeral/memorial service is the idea that I wouldn’t actually have any active part in the affair and, to be blunt, I’m not cool with that. If we’re going to sit around and talk about my life, I wanna be able to chip in a couple sentiments, too. I don’t think that’s unreasonable.
Now, a while ago I penned a letter to the Bear to tell her everything I want her to know in case I don’t get a chance. I’ve also written one to each of her potential caregivers, to relay a couple principles I desperately want my child to grow up with. I also rarely go a year without telling everyone in my life how I feel about them and I’m just one of those bothersome people who always has to come right out and say whatever it is that needs to be said so I never have to say “I should’ve told them when I had the chance.” (This makes me look unbelievably creepy and socially inept at times, by the way, as I’m often one who confronts old classmates with weird things like “Hey, remember that time you stood up for me in the 7th grade? I still remember that. It meant a lot. Thanks.” See? Creepy.) So, in writing my own eulogy, I’m not going to make it a big production of public gratitude like I’ve won an award or something – I’m dead, not taking home the SAG statuette for Best Supporting Actress.
I just want to be part of the party. I want to share memories and laugh about times I royally screwed things up and relate insane adventures I found myself a part of and talk frankly about my life, hopefully as a means to invite others to do the same. I’m not going to make it very long; I’m not about to make people sit through what I should’ve made a memoir, if I was really so intent on rambling about myself for long stretches. But I do want to have fun with it – I might make stuff up, just to see if anyone catches on and giggles – and I want it to make those who cared enough to congregate glad they did.
Actually, I’d really like the whole event – no matter the size – to be a celebration. I want one of my friends to sing Tenacious D’s “Dude, I Totally Miss You” and I want a New Orleans jazz band to play “When the Saints Go Marching In” at the end and I want everyone to wear anything but black and bring a covered dish for a potluck picnic afterward. (Ideally, I’d have enough money to leave behind to throw an actual bash with an ice cream bar and sushi and elephant rides and an 80′s cover band and bellydancers and hoopers and karaoke and a screening of “Amelie” and a bluegrass jam session, but I don’t want my family to have to deal with caterers and party prep, so I’ll just leave behind those four initial wishes and let them go from there.) I want it to be irreverent and I want people to talk about me realistically and I don’t want people to waste money sending me flowers (because I’m freaking dead. Hello? No olfactory senses in the afterlife.)
But, mostly, I just want to be able to share one last event with my loved ones and to be able to candidly reflect on my life and who I was as a person, since we’re already having a party all about me anyway. And, honestly, I’m not sure why more people don’t do that. I mean, I know it sounds a little conceited to want to be one of the ones that heaps praise on yourself but, if the topic of conversation is YOUR life, why shouldn’t you be allowed to give your $.02? And isn’t it a little conceited to want to sit back and let loved ones (and sometimes a preacher/rabbi they’ve never even met) stand in front of a crowd and tearfully glorify you as a flawless human being? Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want people getting up and bringing up every single one of my faults and saying I was a horrible person (why would you go to a horrible person’s funeral anyway?) but I don’t want people who knew me painting me to be some perfect saint that I just wasn’t; that’s kind of gross, actually… and disrespectful as that sort of artificiality is something my whole life/self is opposed to. So, in writing my own eulogy, I’ll be able to set the tone of conversation and loosen people’s reservations (and make those who are obligated to be there and lean on the more reverent-and-conservative side reeeeally uncomfortable, which will also be entertaining.)
For me, writing my own eulogy isn’t about trying to take over the reins or clamor for power over a situation in which I ultimately have no control. It isn’t going to be a means of making a mockery of death or the traditions of memoriam, nor will it be about undermining or belittling the ways my family chooses to deal with my passing. I’m not doing it to rebel or buck tradition or make people uncomfortable.
Writing my eulogy is not only an attempt to act as a welcoming hostess/emcee for the gathering and to put at ease the wonderful people who were kind enough to come; it’s mostly a way for me to be a part of the conversations that will verbally sum up my time here on Earth and, frankly, I think it’s my responsibility to define my life, instead of leaving it up to someone else. Obviously, I can’t control how I’m remembered or what people think of me, but I owe it to myself (at least) to state and rejoice in my reality and identity, no matter how minuscule they may be in the grand scheme of things. Those are the only things I can ever truly call my own and I feel that the only person who can genuinely memorialize them is me. I can’t say what my life was or wasn’t to anyone else, but I don’t think it’s crossing any lines to proclaim what it was to me, for myself. In fact, I think it’s necessary.
Obviously, I’ll have to update this eulogy every so often, as it will have a bit of a shelf life and my perspective will hopefully continue to grow and shift as I age but, even then, I think summing up one’s own existence from time to time might be an incredibly healthy practice. Stepping into the role of “objective third party” and taking a look at my life as though the story is complete has been an amazing way to take personal inventory. If I’m disappointed with the storyline, I realize the need for change. If I’m happy with parts of the story, I’m reminded to take some time to express gratitude for all of it. I know it may sound sick and twisted but writing my own eulogy is a mental exercise I really benefit from, so long as I do it every few years and not obsessively. (Although I can’t imagine being obsessive enough about my life that I’d want to write a new one every week.) It gives me a chance to step back and look at the Big Picture and what’s really important versus what really isn’t going to matter in the end.
So, yeah, it sounds a little Emily Dickinson and it really freaked my husband out when I told him about it, but it’s something that seems a little common sense-y to me, now that I’ve had time to think about it. Why wouldn’t everyone want to be part of the greatest, most definitive celebration of their own lives, even if only through shared words and memories? I wouldn’t miss it for the world.