The Perfect Funeral
by Alice Adams
One evening my husband and I had a conversation about our final tributes. It began because we had just attended another family funeral, which was, with all due respect, just awful—like the last half-dozen funerals we had attended. We didn’t want to bore our family with yet another sit-in-the-pew half-hour, concluding with everyone singing the tired and threadbare “Amazing Grace.”
There are in fact many choices available. Traditional services are, of course, still possible and may be held in churches or venues ranging from a favorite restaurant, park, baseball diamond, golf course, fishing hole, and museums or theaters. More funeral homes now house all-purpose community rooms and catering kitchens.
But non-traditional services are also possible.
“As long as the family’s request is legal and moral, we’ll find a way,” says James Kurtz, a veteran funeral director in Dallas. “Our belief is that healing begins when families celebrate the life of the loved one to their satisfaction. Our job is to fulfill their vision of how they want to portray that life in the most affordable way.”
A car collector I know passed away and his candy-apple red T-Bird was positioned on a black-and-white checkered floor in the foyer of the funeral home. A banner explained: “John’s Final Lap—First in Class.” The racing theme was carried out in the service and the reception.
A biking enthusiast’s life was celebrated by family and bike club buddies with one last bike ride. The funeral director secured a bike with a hearse trailer on bike wheels so the decedent could be present on the ride.
As for the interment itself, cremation is becoming more popular, but there’s also the option of ground burial or entombment in a mausoleum. Some families choose cremation and then bury the urn in the family plot or with a previously buried individual. Another option—if the family doesn’t want to take an urn home with them—is to purchase a “niche” in a columbarium and place the urn in that niche.
There are environmentally friendly urns for burial in a river, lake, or ocean that disintegrate, so the cremated remains are distributed by the natural motion of the water. Some opt for scattering by airplane. Still others put cremated remains in shotgun shells—for an avid hunter’s “Last Hunt,” and a few have had their cremated remains fired into space. In the Pacific Northwest, a new option is to allow loved ones to return to dust naturally, creating mulch for use in a flower bed, park, or favorite golf course.
My own plan included a musical gathering of friends, enjoying wine and cheese, fruit, my favorite tunes and concluding with a champagne toast. Interspersed with the music would be personal testimonies from friends, poetry read by family, and the fight song from my alma mater.
My husband wanted mariachis playing when mourners arrived. He requested a bar serving hibiscus tea, lemonade, and sangria for guests to drink as they surveyed displays of the medals, trophies, and photos from his football days, marathons, Senior Olympics participation, and, of course, family events.
In a room decorated with bright colors, mourners could enjoy a buffet of all his favorite Mexican foods. The service would include short talks by family, former students and players, assistant coaches, and boyhood friends. A soloist would sing selections from his favorite opera, “Carmen,” a friend who would be invited to recite the Jewish Kaddish in Aramaic, and at the end, the room would stand and sing, “The Eyes of Texas.”
We decided our remains would be cremated, and, when the other partner died, our cremated remains would be mixed so our children could scatter us near a river we loved.
We selected a funeral home, found a funeral director we liked, and gave him copies of our requests. We put his number into our cellphones and shared the firm’s name, director’s name, and his cell number with our families. (If you work with a hospice, be sure your hospice coordinator has this information too.)
We also planned for our services to be held two months after our deaths, so we made guest lists for our by-invitation final farewells. An artist friend created invitations for each of services, and these were added to our files so the funeral home could print them when the time came.
Our preparations were well worth it. When my husband died, his vision of his service became reality. Thankfully, every request was granted. This was my final gift to the love of my life.
Artwork by “Funeral” by Michael DerRiedl (Germany) and “Life” by MeralSarioglu (Turkey) both on deviantart.com
Alice Adams has combined her passions for writing, history, grandparenting, education, and medicine in a career spanning more than three decades. She holds a doctorate in education leadership and taught marketing and business communications at Odessa College and The University of St. Thomas in Houston. She has written for the Houston Chronicle and currently contributes articles to a number of Texas and national publications.