Funerals: The good, the bad, and the ugly.

So I just went to a funeral that left me all pissed off - the pastor who had been hired to conduct the service for a religious-but-not-notably-so woman spent an hour and a half talking not about the decedent, but about why we all needed to COME TO JESUS. I was told that it could have been worse, but I was just livid at the end of it.

So, take my mind off it - tell me your funeral stories. The good, the bad, the silly, the dramatic, the awkward…I’m sure you’ve got 'em.

At my grandma’s funeral, the priest said, “And we must also remember those who passed before her, including her son Kenny and her daughter-in-law Trish.”

My Aunt Trish is alive and well and was sitting in the second row.

We all chuckled at that one during lunch afterwards.

My grandfather had a memorial thing, not a real funeral (he was against the idea of people celebrating his death, or remembering him, etc). I remember that this one woman cried and begged us all not to forget about HER, since our connection to her was through my grandpa. I felt bad for her, because she pretty much knew we’d have no reason to ever see her again… and I still to this day wonder how she’s doing. Still kind of tacky to stand up at someone’s memorial service and say, ‘DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME!’

It wasn’t funny at the time…

While we were planning my sister’s funeral, it came to the family’s attention that my mother’s asshole of an ex husband planned to attend. That’s when we learned that he couldn’t legally be barred. (Some crap about it being a “public” event, based on the wording of the published obituary. I don’t know.) A friend of the family, who was a state patrol officer at the time, even went to the ex’s house, and asked him to stay away… He didn’t. But he didn’t stay for long.

Mom was using a cane at the time, having broken her leg a few months earlier. When the ex got to the funeral home, my brother and stepdad were trying to hold Mom back. The state trooper and another friend of the family were trying to keep the moron out of harm’s way. And Mama was swinging for the fences. We all agreed later that we’d have let Mom have her way if any of us could’ve raised bail money at the time.

It’s a testament to black humor that this is now a funny story.

Another: during my father’s funeral procession, my aunt absently noted that it seemed like lots of folks were having car trouble that day. (Of course, people were just pulling over for the procession.) This became funnier and funnier (it was about 40 miles between the funeral home and the cemetery, so Aunt B said this several times.) Finally, tears turned to a full-on giggle fest when my aunt pointed to the beer truck on the side of the road and asked whether we should pull over and help that one.

Someone’s phone rang at my grandmother’s funeral and the lady who owned it took the call (at least she removed herself outside to talk, though she did pick it up in the room). Afterwards my friend was livid on our behalf and was spluttering through a denunciation of the woman for being SO RUDE and INCONSIDERATE and THOUGHTLESS when suddenly her own phone started to ring. She turned pale and said “Oh my God, I thought it was turned off during the service. That could have been me!”. Not split your sides funny, but it made me laugh on a day that was otherwise less than hilarious.

At my Grandfather’s funeral the minister opened with “Doug was born in 1915…”, which was wrong (Grandma was born in 1915; Grandfather was born in 1918), “… the third son of <Grandfather’s brother’s name>…”. I wasn’t aware of doing it at the time, but the relatives seated behind me asked me later on which details were wrong because apparently I started furiously shaking my head as the minister spoke. The funeral director must have noticed too because he brought Grandfather’s death certificate details over to me to proofread at the wake (fortunately, as there were several errors in the details my family supplied and it would have irritated me until the end of time if they’d been on the official certificate when it was issued).

My brother’s alarm on his phone went off when we were taking dad’s coffin out of the hearse to be buried. The alarm was, IIRC, the Airwolf theme. Next, this local harpy came along and sang a song shrill and out of key. We had to pretend to be crying to mask our laughter.

At my father’s funeral (another one with subtle religious overtones, that most of us could have frankly done without), my Cousin, nth removed (great-aunt’s son?) made a comment to my mother (note - the WIDOW!) that my dad must have died because he missed the family dog, which had died a couple weeks before. Luckily, mom didn’t really register the comment (she says she doesn’t remember it), but my brother and I sure did.

The good–

My grandmother’s funeral service was lead by the new minister of her church–who’d probably known Grandma for all of 2 months, one of which was while she was in the hospital. But her policy in any event was to gather up the family and talk about the deceased for a couple of hours, and use that as the basis for her homily.

And she did an excellent job–my favorite part was the way that she hinted at my grandmother’s controlling nature–today one might argue it was abuse–without making it sound like abuse in the context of her life.

And the service was religious without being “come to Jesus” which suited all of us.

My husband’s stepbrother died when he was in his 20s (my husband and he were just about the same age). Now, Larry was a rambunctious sort of guy, no question about it. He liked to smoke (legal and illegal substances), drink, and mess around with women. He never deliberately harmed anyone, unless they started it. He was just a good ol’ boy.

However, the preacher felt obliged to mention that Larry had been studying his Bible shortly before his death, so maybe he was Saved. I happened to know that Larry was carrying and occasionally cracking open that Bible to appease his father and stepmother (Bill’s parents). I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I know that funerals and memorial services are for the living, not the dead. But it was pretty clear that the preacher was grasping for SOME way to imply that maybe Larry had found his way into heaven. I knew Larry. He’d be happier in hell.

My cousin left instructions for Barry Manilow music to be played at her funeral. Trying to be sombre to “Oh Mandy” is not easy.

My Aunt Clara was the last surviving great aunt on either side of the family, and the sweetest lady you’d ever want to know. She was a short, round Polish lady who always seemed to have a smile on her face. She was well into her 80s when she died.

At her funeral, her son-in-law of 30+ years showed up in a polo shirt, baggy, well-snagged polyester pants, and grungy looking, well-worn hushpuppies. I always thought he was a bit of a jerk, but to show up for his mother-in-law’s funeral dressed like he was going to clean out the garage - sheesh! I felt so sorry for my cousin - not only did she lose her mother, but she was married to an ass!

My dad was 72 when he died, a few months after my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary. It really hit my youngest sister hard - they’d been really close in his later years. Since Dad had been very active in the Knights of Columbus for many years, he had a tux, and that’s what he was laid out in.

Naturally, emotions were all over the place - memories evoked both laughter and tears, and my sister seemed to swing to the extremes over the course of the visitation at the funeral home. At one point, she said we should have dressed Dad in one of those tuxedo-look t-shirts, then propped a sign in the casket saying “I died and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!” That got a group of us laughing like idiots, much to the consternation of some visitors. But we all knew that Dad would have been laughing just as loud as any of us. And it did help us thru that day.

It could indeed be worse. The decedent could have been 2 months old. Mercifully, there were two preachers speaking, so this only went on for a little over half an hour, but it wasn’t exactly pouring healing balm into anybody’s soul to hear about how if we didn’t change our ways we’d never see that baby ever again.

The funeral was for an elderly but feisty old sort, who had literally hundreds of friends in the local recovery community. She was a real firecracker, in assisted living, but full of stories about the days when she worked for [COLOR=#800080]Meyer Lansky. [/COLOR]

And she was a gossip. Jesus H. Christ on a toothpick could that woman gossip. Any tiny scrap of information she had was yours for the asking; and yet, she could wheedle a confidence out of the most recalcitrant hermit. Even knowing what she was going to do with it, you’d find yourself with a sudden case of verbal diarrhea, spitting out every thought you’d had since the last time you spoke with her. And you’d call again, even after she did it, because five minutes on the phone would leave you feeling more “hooked in” to the larger group of friends than hours on the phone with each of them could have accomplished. You could definitely see how she’d been useful in Lansky’s work.

So now here we all are, packed into a crowded auditorium (rented by the funeral home at the last moment when they realized just how many folks were going to show up.) And one by one, as we do, folks just wandered to the front to talk about the wisdom she had shared with them and how she saved their lives.

In one corner of the room, front left, is a group that is clearly different. Flannel suits that look like they came from London, elderly men - frail, walking on canes and frames - who you still wouldn’t want to meet alone in a dark alley, with ladies who look like they are still having their legs waxed at 90. The aura over there is part boxing club, part Saville Row, part Ricky Ricardo’s Havana.

And some little nitwit decides she’s gonna get back at the deceased by complaining about how she gossiped. She gets up, in front of all these hundreds of people, 40-50 of whom have already stood at that microphone to say how the deceased changed or even saved their lives, and this little nincompoop thinks it’s a good time to whine about a confidence broken.

She’s about four sentences in, a little 20-something and clearly the victim type, when a few guys from the front left corner stand up and gather as if they are about to “help” her off the stage. Most of the audience is utterly oblivious, and some are quietly giving a sideways nod - cheering poor little girl on. I moved as swiftly as propriety allowed. I put my arm around her shoulders, and a tissue in her face, as if she’d been overcome and I was consoling her. I walked her up the side aisle on the right, and glanced apologetically and questioningly at the standing men.

Such a conversation as those looks conveyed.
Me: I’m getting her out of here, will you let that be enough?
Guys: Looking at each other, is she serious? Just leave it at that?
Guys: back at me, "You expect us to accept this? US?!? "
Me: Gesturing with my chin towards the coffin “It’s what she would want you to do”
Guys: to each other, slowly shrugging “I hate this, but she’s right. And there’s a lot of them.”
Me: now almost to the back of the room “Just let us go OK?”
Guy in sunglasses, sitting in the front row, who never rose, and I didn’t know was part of it until that moment: to all of us, a hand wave “It’s over.”

I whisked her past several large black cars with really big black-suited drivers waiting beside the rear doors, and when she said she didn’t have a car there, I was forced to leave myself and take her home.

The really funniest thing about it all is, that little girl never had the slightest idea. She hates me to this day, and still whines to anyone who will listen about how I had no right to make her leave that memorial service. And sometimes, just for a second or two, I let myself wish I had let her stay.

Only a couple sermons are memorable as bad funeral moments. In both cases, it didn’t seem that the minister knew the corpse very well. The first was just sort of puzzling-- he described a woman that I remembered as independent as a good helpmeet for her husband. The second offended me, as the man decided it would be a good time to denounce evolution. I walked out like I needed to use the toilet and waited in the hall.

I only have one pleasant funeral memory come to mind. One of my cousins died in a bad accident. She used to instigate water fights, so somebody brought squirt guns and the younger relatives-- and a few older ones-- had a battle in the parking lot.

During my husband’s funeral, I heard a beep going off every 5 minutes or so. After a few times, it registered that the beep was telling someone they had a voicemail. After a few more beeps, it registered that the someone was me. And that my phone was several rows behind me, with my elderly mother, who probably couldn’t hear it and definitely didn’t know how to turn it off.

I bet some people still wonder who the rude person with the cellphone was.

During my uncle’s funeral, my cousins (who were old enough to know better - I think the youngest was 7 or 8), were horsing around during the grave-side memorial service, playing with the shovels, shoveling dirt onto the coffin before it was ever in the ground and otherwise playing with the mound of dirt next to the fresh grave and running circles around the minister giving the prayer. Their parents didn’t do anything about it (though in their mother’s defense, it was her father who had passed away) - it was the minister who snarled at them to knock it off who finally got them to stop playing at the grave site.

At my husbands funeral, the pastor told us all that it was too late for Jeff, cause he was already in hell, but we could all avoid the same fate by confessing now. He continued in this vein for about 45 minutes. I was devastated.

This same pastor came to my door a few years later trying to sell his religion. After he said his name, I told him that I knew exactly who he was. The look on my face said the words I was too polite to say out loud. He looked so puzzled as I quietly but firmly shut the door in his face.

I attended a funeral last year for a guy who was really into deer hunting. All the pictures were of him with dead deer in one shape or another. At one point, the guy doing the eulogy was going on about how Myron was now in heaven with all the dead deer and all the fun they were having. It was so bizarre to me, but nobody else seemed to have a problem with it.

Haw! I’ve run into similar but nothing quite that surreal.

Worst I ever heard of, (and I may have heard it here,) but I wasn’t there for it. . .

Everyone who attended the funeral got a small bag containing a bit of the deceased’s ashes. WTF?!?

We were following the hearse and when my uncle saw the route we were taking he realized we could short cut, stop at a bar then fall in behind the hearse again and we did. Only thing, we were only a few cars behind the hearse and several vehicles followed us.

Another funeral - so many people wanted to speak we went over the time, the funeral director had to hit the button sending the coffin off as speakers jabbered on. Outside was a furious group jostling to get in for their event.