If you’re looking for a new career, consider Celebration of End of Life Planning.
Yes, it’s a thing.
These days, with fewer people affiliated with a formal religious faith and less interest overall in ponderous, time tested rituals of death, people are responding to the death of a loved one in creative and highly personalized ways. Given the time crunch in which many of us live, we outsource the planning of such events just like we outsource everything else.
“Death is a given, but not the time-honored rituals. An increasingly secular, nomadic and casual America is shredding the rules about how to commemorate death, and it’s not just among the wealthy and famous. Somber, embalmed-body funerals, with their $9,000 industry average price tag, are, for many families, a relic. Instead, end-of-life ceremonies are being personalized: golf-course cocktail send-offs, backyard potluck memorials, more Sinatra and Clapton, less “Ave Maria,” more Hawaiian shirts, fewer dark suits. Families want to put the “fun” in funerals.”
Jerry’s death in 2002 was sudden and shocking. He and I had never talked about a send-off, other than when we drafted our health care proxies and I asked him if he wanted a rabbi when he died. He said he did, even though he didn’t do another overtly Jewish thing in his adult life. With the help of a friend who was affiliated with a Rochester temple, I was able to fulfill that desire for Jerry; a dear and wonderful rabbi officiated at the graveside service. We also had the equivalent of an Irish wake in the days before, to satisfy my family traditions. While everyone was still in town we had a memorial service at the Interfaith Chapel at the University of Rochester where the people who loved Jerry the most got up and spoke. That, for me, was the best part. One of our friends, a musician, played Jerry’s favorite jazz piece, “Take Five” which is often associated with the Dave Brubeck quartet. Jerry had a vinyl record of it.
My mother died in 2007, and she wanted the full-on Catholic ritual, not in our longtime parish St. Stephen’s, but at Queen of Peace, the church where she and my father had bee married. The officiant was a second-career priest who’d been an SEC examiner in his previous professional life, which was a little weird. He made an effort to learn a few things about her, but basically she got rolled in and had the same funeral mass that any departed Catholic might have received. I wasn’t allowed to give the eulogy because the Newark diocese didn’t permit women on the altar or allow women to speak during the Mass. The priest had the grace to apologize, and I told him it pretty much fit my expectations of the Catholic Church. I gave the eulogy at the funeral home, in the presence of our cousins. Most of my mother’s friends had already died.
This article prompts me to think about what I want, hopefully far in the future. I don’t want a Catholic mass, although that was my tradition growing up. Nor do I want or expect the big funeral Jerry had. We had a large circle of friends, clients, professional colleagues, neighbors and associates who were shocked by Jerry’s death, and needed a place to come to offer condolences. I have a much smaller circle here in Seattle, and I’ll be older. There isn’t the same need.
Not much idea yet what I do want, but I’m going to give it some thought. I don’t find the topic morbid. In my practical way, I find it … practical.
How about you? Something formal, in the religious tradition you grew up in and may still practice? Or something unique to you?