Rest in piece

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Author: Brian Doyle ’78

Since it’s just you and me here on the page, and no one else can hear us, let’s both cheerfully admit that we have, in moments of delicious melancholy, thought about our own funerals, and sincerely regretted that we will have to miss our own funerals, and wondered how many people would show up for our funerals, taking the morning off from work and wearing excellent black suits and dresses and maybe even veils and mantillas like in the old days. And let us also admit with a guilty smile that we have actually planned our funerals a little, at least secretly choosing some of the music that should be played, and we have also secretly thought about which six guys should carry the coffin, and which priest should be sentenced to being the celebrant, and whether to have the exit music be Booker T and the MGs or Joe Strummer, and whether or not to make one of the kids get up and speak for the family, and where your ashes should be scattered, and whether or not to have a headstone, and where that stone would be for the next century, and whether or not to leave money in your will for a proofreader, to be sure that for the next hundred years your meager remains do not reside under a stone that says REST IN PIECE.

Aw, go ahead and admit it — you too have lain awake sometimes, usually when you are in bed with a savage flu or down for three days with spinal agony, and you have grinned to envision most of the people you love in that lovely little wooden chapel, and all of your former basketball teammates sitting together in rough size order in the back, and your burly remaining brothers in the front, flanking your lovely bride, who is still making coffee for two in the morning and every time she does that she bursts into tears again; and even the dog is there, confused and excited, and wondering in his serene way if there will eventually be anything good to eat; and the priest, your dear friend and longtime pastor, is trying to stay somber enough to accomplish what in the end is a sacramental event with serious liturgical implications, but he cannot help but snicker as one friend after another gets up and tells a hilarious story about yet another unbelievably ridiculous nutty thing the deceased did once, oh my god remember that time we…? And everyone is laughing so hard they are near tears or sliding just a bit into tears, that lovely shimmering place where you are laughing and crying at the same time — and isn’t that what we both would like our funerals to be like? I mean, who wants sad? You and I both want people to start laughing and not stop laughing until the very end when finally our spouses and children lead the pallbearers out, and the pallbearers are grinning because one of them just whispered to the others that wouldn’t the deceased be ragging us right now about wearing suits and ties, he would be all over our case, wouldn’t he? And everyone starts to laugh again as the pallbearers cart the deceased out the door into the gentle rain, because the dog has leapt up and followed them, thinking that there might finally be something good to eat; and there will be something good to eat back at the house, and plenty of beer and coffee, and ham and turkey sandwiches, and those great snickerdoodle cookies, and terrific music all the rest of the day, as everyone stands around telling stories and laughing fit to bust. Isn’t that what we both want for that day, people laughing? Because laughter is maybe the purest sweetest gentlest sincerest holiest prayer of all, isn’t it? And if most of the people you love are laughing absolutely from their hearts all day long about the pleasure they gained in this life from your unruly existence, wouldn’t that be the best funeral ever?


This essay can be found in the book Grace Notes by Brian Doyle. Used with permission of the publisher, ACTA Publications. Brian Doyle died May 27 at age 60 from complications related to a brain tumor.


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