Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It’s All in the Obit

When I open the newspaper every morning, the first section I read are the obituaries. At work, when I say out loud, “Oh my God,” my co-workers respond, “Who died?” If it were not for celebrity deaths, I don’t know what I would do with my free time.

But, it isn’t just celebrity deaths I find fascinating. My rabbi once said, “If you want to know how to live your life, go to a funeral.”


What will they say about you when you die? Everything you do will be condensed into one sixty-word paragraph, unless our family spends a few bucks and you get one-quarter of a column, which by the way can cost as much as $800. A little tip: if you allow them to run the extended obituary whenever they have room rather than the day of the funeral, it costs nothing. And, you thought you wouldn’t learn anything today.

How do I know this? I have a degree in Funeral Service Administration, and I worked in a funeral home for a while. How many of you made an eww face when you read that?

The first thing you need to know is WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE! The second thing you need to know is YOUR FAMILY IS GOING TO TOUCH ALL OF YOUR THINGS AFTER YOU DIE, AND YOU CANNOT DO A THING ABOUT IT!

For the above reasons, I plan to pull a Chester Arthur. President Arthur, our twenty-first president, also known as the “Elegant Arthur,” “Gentleman Boss” and “Dude President” because he was such a dapper dresser and changed his pants several times a day, burned all of his personal papers the night before he died. He actually changed his pants so often because he suffered and eventually died from kidney disease. June Alyson’s husband also had kidney disease, which is why she did all those Depends commercials, but that didn’t stop everyone from keeping her off their furniture.

All that aside, President Arthur made sure no one touched his things. How do I know this? After I completed my book, Harriet Lane, America’s First Lady (shameless plug), my next subject was Chester Arthur, but there is very little left of his legacy, except all those ashes in his fireplace, which is surprising for the man who signed the Pendleton Act into law. All you DC civil servants owe a debt of gratitude to the man whose career benefitted from political favors and party machinations yet signed a law that completely reformed the civil service system and how federal government employees were hired, promoted, and unfortunately, never fired.
His former New York City residence is now a Lebanese market.

See how much I know? I am not just another pretty face.

Every year, we pass the anniversary of our deaths without realizing it, so when I am finally aware that I have less than twenty-four hours to live, I plan on lighting my trailer and everything in it on fire. It is not that I don’t want people to have my things; I just don’t want people touching them. Even from the grave, that will drive me insane.

Anal much?

Recently, I bought property. According to an old boss of mine, it is the only property I will actually own. Yes, I bought a plot. This weekend, I am finalizing the pre-planning of my funeral. Before my enemies get too excited, I plan on being around for a while … or at least until I pay off the plot and the funeral. I did make one request. There will be six limousines at my funeral. I don’t care if they are empty, but when my procession goes through traffic from the funeral home in Silver Spring to my plot in Southeast Washington, DC, I want all those waiting at intersections for it to go by to say, “Damn, he had a lot of friends.” This is another reason I have to stick around. Limousines rentals are expensive.

How many of you have imagined how your funeral would be? Wouldn’t you love to be in attendance? If you are lucky and not a blonde woman on a beach in Aruba, you should be present at your funeral, right up front, so everyone knows you are there.

Some elderly people who make it into their nineties are now having pre-funerals, where they can see what everyone has to say. I am sorry, but this is not a fair representation of your actual memorial. People have to be nice when the deceased is not ceased. Personally, if I make it to ninety, I plan on having a roast. Let whoever is still alive to remember me over the years come on down and say anything they want. I have a sense of humor and would love to hear what all those dried up, wrinkled old bastards have to say. I don’t want to be awake for my funeral.

However, the obituary is much more important than the funeral. That is because strangers can read about your extraordinary life. My mother felt the same way. A month before she died, we wrote her obituary. I didn’t tell my father or brother because they couldn’t have handled that, living in the state of denial and all, but I enjoyed working on her obit. She wanted to be sure all the facts were correct. Ironically, we found out after she died that half of what we knew about her life wasn’t exactly true, and we had no clue about the other half. The things we learned over the next few years!

As I said, everything you do in life is about the obituary. Did I say that? If not, I am saying it now.

Will your obituary be about your good work or the fact that you went to work? Will it be about the things your owned? Will it be about where you lived or the life you lived?

The obituaries that I find the most fascinating are the ones that say so little. For example, “Shirley Stanford, Church Member. Shirley Stanford, a member of Some Assembly of God Required Church, died on Friday. She was married for forty years and had two children. Funeral on Monday.” That’s it! And if you read the obituaries, there are dozens like that. If the title says “Church Member,” there is never any substance to the obituary. I sometimes write down their names in the hopes of seeing a more comprehensive obituary in future issues when space opens up in a column or two, but there never is a follow-up.

Can you imagine living your life for eighty years, and all they say is you belonged to a church? This reminds me of Deb on Drop Dead Diva. She died, and when she went to Heaven, she was listed as a zero. No good deeds, no bad deeds, she accomplished nothing! So, she came back as Jane. Great show; you must watch it. Joan Rivers, Liza Minnelli, and Delta Burke have guest starred.

Then, of course, is the picture that accompanies your obituary. For the love of God or whomever your deity, make sure your weird ass family doesn’t put the worst possible picture of you in the paper. I still cannot decide if I want one of me at forty or a good one of me close to whatever age I achieve before looking at grass from the other side. The glamour shots are nice, but if you have an open casket, people are going to remark on how well you did … or did not … age. I am glad I am Jewish. We don’t give Nana a postmortem make-over then scare the crap out of the grandkids.

“Doesn’t she look peaceful?”

“She looks dead.”

When I worked at the funeral home, we had an embalmer, who I swear was a make-up artist from MGM in another life. Every woman had the complete Hollywood glamour treatment for her viewing. No one could draw a lip line or attach a false eyelash like this guy. Little known fact – seventy-five percent of funeral home employees are Gay.
I feel sorry for the hairdressers. These women's actual hairdressers would complete the make-over. Can you imagine getting your last comb-out when you can least appreciate that this one will actually last the entire weekend?

The worst obituary picture I ever saw was of a woman who looked to be seventy, sitting shlumpilly in a recliner, wearing a house dress, her hair an absolute mess, and a large filthy bird was sitting on her shoulder. Her family must have hated her. Her obituary said, “Molly McGuire, former CIA operative, died peacefully with her beloved chicken sleeping by her side.”

Make sure you don’t piss off your family. You don’t want to be remembered like Molly McGuire, sitting in a Lazy-Boy with an angry chicken on your shoulder.

Do you have a cough? Are you getting chilly? Is the room going dark? If so, follow me, tell your friends, buy some property, and buy my book!

1 comment:

  1. Two words: Irish wake. I want to be at my funeral just to watch. At the last one I attended, it only took three rounds for a toast in the ballpark of, "All want to thank all of you'se bastards that stopped talking to all of us on this side of the room that married Protestants. Nice to see ya again." My father handed me the keys and headed to the bar. An Irish wake in Newark should never, ever be missed.

    A line of limos? Just how many times have you seen, "An Imitation of Life"? Both versions?

    I want to pre-funeral. And I want a roast. High-minded themes such as, "so the bastard thinks he just die when he owes me all that money," or, "How many of us can claim to leave such an illustrious trail of restraining orders on our wake?"

    Don't give be sugar-coated praise when I can't tell you to cut the crap. I want laughter, love, and social filters left at the coat check.

    Go into the light, Carol-Ann...