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Author Topic: How to Speak for the Dead
Member # 9189

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Having grown up in a typical American home, in a typical American town for the past 31 years, I thought the process for burying, grieving, and remembering a loved one was set in stone. After reading Speaker for the Dead and seeing an episode of Pen & Tellerís BS (edited for the kids), I think quite differently now.

My family just had to deal with the death of a family member. J, weíll call her, died after a one year fight with cancer. It started with lung cancer (kids, donít smoke). J had one lung removed and we all had hope; then, the cancer came back with a vengeance. Everyone had tried to keep a positive outlook, but we had to be realistic. At the end, everyone had made peace and J passed away to be reunited with her husband in Heaven.

From the moment J died, the family went into a frenzy. There were flowers to buy, viewings to attend, arrangements to make, we had to pick out a casket, buy clothes for the funeral, arrange a picture slideshow and music, practice poems J wanted read, etcÖ Not that J doesnít deserve it, she deserved that and so much more, it really was a labor of love; but if it were me, I donít want that stress on my family.

Then came the funeral. It really was beautiful. My wife and I had put together a slide show of photos of Jís life which was played while a young lady with an angelic voice sang ďAmazing GraceĒ and ďPrecious MemoriesĒ, Jís two favorite hymns. My brother-in-law and I read poems written by J to comfort her grieving family. There were plenty of nice words were said about J.

The next weekend started the somber task of packing her room and giving away the things she wanted to go to family. As awkward as it felt, it was nice for my daughters to receive items that will allow them to always remember their great-aunt who loved them and taught them music. During this time, the family came across a couple of notes written by J, one to her dead husband and one to her only son. The letters were passed around by her son for everyone to read. In one letter, there was wording that shed light on Jís true feelings about my wife. It was just exclusion, but it was enough to really upset my wife. She had always felt excluded in Jís eyes. This letter, she said, felt like a slap in the face from the grave. This really hurt my wife, because she had grown so close to J in the last year of her life.

J was not perfect and no one expected her to be. She made many mistakes in her life. Some that hurt only her and some that hurt the entire family. She blew off acts of abuse and took advantage of people when they offered to help her financially. This being said, she did have a good heart and loved the children of the family. She would teach each of the kids how to sing and play guitar.

This brings me to my point for writing the forum. I donít see why anyone would want to put their family through so much stress in arranging the funeral during such a hard time. To me, a funeral is a huge waste of money. Jís funeral cost somewhere in the amount of $15,000. When my grandmother died, neither she nor her children had much money so they had a very inexpensive funeral; it was still $6000. Why spend more for a casket than you would for a used car? I have really struggled with this since that weekend. Then there is the funeral service itself. I am all for telling the happy stories and trying to comfort the family in such a time, but I donít want the happy stories to be a Band-Aid on the real issues.

Overall, I am a nice guy, but I have a lot of issues. I love my wife and children more than anything else on this planet. I am strict when it comes to discipline, and I expect my children to excel in school. I take pride in my family. I donít call my mother as much as I should and I rarely talk to my sisters. I donít feel I have much in common with my extended family and do not take the time to contact them.

When I die, I want to be cremated as soon as I get to the funeral home. I donít want a funeral; instead, I want the announcement to read ďParty at 6:00Ē. I donít want family to have to go out and buy a suit so they can be a pall bearer, especially if they are not the kind of person that will ever wear one again. I want everyone to get together, eat food, laugh, and tell stories. I am a person that loves life. I have a story for everything and I love to eat. Celebrate my life and donít focus on my death. I want my cremated remains sent to a company called Lifegem; they make manmade diamonds from the carbon in cremated remains. I want a diamond made for my wife and each of my four daughters. This way, they donít have to stare at an urn and they can always have me with them. By all means, I want someone to Speak my Death. I want my story told. Truthfully.

What are your thoughts?


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lynn johnson
Member # 9620

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Brojack, what a touching question.

I think you should be talking about this now to your family. We tend to side-step death as if it weren't going to happen to us. I have thought lately I would like to make my own coffin, out of 1 x 12 pine, in the traditional frontier shape (you know, narrow at the top and bottom). That would be a fun project when I retire. I could stand it up and line it with shelves, so its a piece of furniture. Then when I croak* the family can take out the shelves and nail the top on.

In my religion, we aren't charged for use of the building, so a funeral there wouldn't cost anything.

What do others plan on?

*"Grandpa, when are you going to change into a frog?"
"I wasn't planning on it. Why do you ask?"
"Because dad said when you croak we are going to Disneyland."

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Member # 9529

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My husband said something similar after we attended the memorial service for my aunt, who also died of lung cancer just last week. Her service was nice - just a get-together to hang out, eat cookies, and chat about Aunt Beth. I really liked it, and so did my husband. He already knows that I just want a simple "party" for my friends and family to grieve together but also remember the good times. There won't be any casket to buy, because my body is to be donated to science with the hope that it will provide learning of some kind to make others' lives easier and better. But my husband has never specified anything like that for his own death - he just was very touched by the simplicity and warmth of the memorial service, and wanted something similar.

Although he did jokingly state that if he's buried, he'd like his arms arranged across his chest with the Ronnie James Dio "rock" gesture. ha ha.

I really liked the ideas about memorials in Speaker for the Dead. It may not be easy for people to hear the whole truth, but it is a solid form of closure, and a way to understand the deceased one's life. Beautiful in its own way, even when it can be unpleasant, I imagine.

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Member # 9722

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I've thought of this before, particularly the part about how expensive funerals can be. I'd never really understood the part about big expensive coffins. You're just sticking it the ground, never to be seen again. Heaven knows the deceased doesn't care. But then I had someone I was close to die and realized that all the hooplah had nothing to do with the wishes of the deceased. I could tell my husband to just stick me in a pine box and I know he wouldn't do it. The nice coffin, fancy services, whatever to me seems extravagant, is the family's way of honoring the deceased and dealing with their own grief. Get your loved one the nice coffin because, yeah, they don't care, but they DESERVE something that nice, and because you won't ever be able to something for them again. It's the final act of love. Honor the good things about them and leave out the bad out of respect and the need to appease your own sorrow. Who needs the guilt of criticizing the newly deceased?

This is not my opinion, but I think that it has a lot to do with what we consider "standard" funeral expectancies.

I used to think about how I wanted my own funeral to be, but now I realize I just want it to be what my family wants it to be. The funeral won't be for me. I'm sure that if I had specific wishes, like being cremated or having a certain song sung, or something like that, family would be happy to comply as a final way to honor me. But however the funeral goes, I'm not going to care too much, I think.

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Member # 5003

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One thing that happens with funerals is that no one wants to look cheap in front of their relatives. I don't know that funeral service providers deliberately play on this, but I think many people are capable of tying themselves up in knots over it. Then there is the whole guilt thing.

The only thing you can do is leave clear instructions on what you want.

I don't know what could have been done about the letters, besides pitying people who would pass on such hurtful information.

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My opinions about what I wanted for myself changed somewhat when our son passed away. I had always said that I wanted to be cremated and the ashes scattered. I didn't feel that I needed to be taking up room in some field that, for the most part, few people would visit or ever even see. I said, scatter my ashes, and plant a tree or two and remember my life, not my body (not much worth remembering there anyway). However, when my son died, I new he needed to be somewhere that we could visit him. I still believe that the body isn't all that important, but in a cemetary in Iowa is a place that is Aiden's and always will be. There are two places reserved for my wife and I with him. I still want to be cremated (after anything usefull has been given to someone else) but now, I take comfort in knowing I'll be with my son physically again. But I do want my "funeral" to be a celebration, a time where people who loved me can get together and talk about me (including making fun of my) and tell the stories they want to tell.
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Member # 9189

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I am so sorry to hear about your son. I hope I did not come across as anti-funeral. I fully expect everyone to do what they feel they need to in their situation. I do love the idea of planting a tree. We did that for my grandmother next to her favorite spot to fish on my uncles pond. My mom can go out there and pay tribute or just talk whenever she likes.

I'm definately in the minority on this with my family. I have told them what I want, but I leave the final decision up to them. However they need to grieve my death is up to them. I just would hate to put extra stress on them at such a sad time.

Thank you for the post and again, I am sorry for your loss.


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I think that is the one thing we forget. I know I always said when I die I want this to happen or that to happen. But after we die, its not about us. It is about what the family and friends need to grieve. I know my friends well enough to know that they will be getting together on someone's deck or in someone's house and talking about the good times and the bad. They won't need my body and won't need to be in a church or anything like that. I think my family (brothers and sisters) would expect a funeral so it will probably happen for them.
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