I have never attended a fun funeral. They always seem to be sad and rightfully so. Some are sadder than others, the stories too heartbreaking to mention, the lives cut way too short. Some are celebrations of a full life, a life filled with a wonderful marriage, children, grandchildren, and what I always consider to be the ultimate blessing, great grandchildren and beyond. You are still sad for those people, but also realize what a full life they had. Though, my dad always says that even if a person lives to be a 100, if you are 99, it’s still too soon.
Funerals are for the last respects that we pay to the departed, but they are also for us. For reflection, for new chances at being our best selves, a time to search deep within our souls to find meaning and purpose; I once attended a funeral where the daughter of the deceased began her eulogy by saying, “I could tell you my dad was a wonderful man, but you all know that wouldn’t be true.” Perhaps that was one of the saddest funerals of all. What can we do so no one says that about us? Or more specifically, me? (Hey, I write the column, it’s all about me!)
When I go to graveside funerals, and fortunately, it is not that often, thank God, I always look at the headstones of the “neighbors.” I want to make sure that the person who is currently being buried is going to spend all of eternity next to someone nice and not “Here lies Frank. Brother, Son, Serial Killer.” But you never see too many really specific personality descriptions. Everyone was someone’s son or daughter, mother or father, sister, brother, and what have you. There was one lady who was “Compassionate. Writer. Feminist.” Was she? What kind of writer? A feminist writer? Is the man lying next to her annoyed with that? Perhaps he isn’t a fan of feminism. But we don’t know because all that was etched on his stone is “Steven Something. Wonderful Husband. Supportive Father.” Don’t know much about Steven. That makes me sad too. All of these people that lived their lives and all that’s left is a stone with a few words on it, when we are all so much more.
I have to make the comparison with our yearbook bios. Next to our awkward photo (depending, of course, on which yearbook—elementary school (what was I thinking with that hairstyle?), high school (what was I thinking with that hairstyle?), or even college (what was I thinking with that nose ring? Just kidding.). Our bios are usually written by our friends. They describe our hopes and dreams for the future. “Penelope has been an integral member of our class. She started the asbestos removal campaign and hopes to one day be a doctor.” But when Penelope dies, even if she did become a doctor, even if she did go on a crusade to remove asbestos from every school in every state, her headstone will still only read “Penelope. Daughter. Wife. Mother. Friend.” You would think with all the exposure to asbestos she would at least get a “and always had a really bad cough” added to it. Morbid, yes; helpful in getting to know the real Penelope, also yes.
We all strive to do something with our lives, to make ourselves immortal in some way. I will be the first to admit that I love writing because I am now a part of a culture. You will be able to look up my name and something I have written will be there. I know that doesn’t make me immune to death, but I find some solace knowing that I will always be out there in some way. When my daughter-in-law tries to explain to her granddaughter why she has such a ridiculous name (I can dream that someone in some future generation will carry on the insanity that is Banji) she will be able to look me up and read my words. And then, perhaps, she will look up at her grandmother with her big blue eyes and lovingly say, “Mom named me after that crazy lady?”
In the end we all end up in the same place. In the end, our words and our deeds might take us to different realms of that same place. But, when someone walks by my headstone, whenever that might be, I want them to smile. Banji. Amazing Daughter. Amazing Mother. Unbelievable Mother-in-Law (ha ha) and she really loved to drink Tab. Here’s to 120 for all of us in good health and laughter…
Banji Ganchrow might come across a bit morbid in this piece, but she means well. The fact that she went 8 days without drinking her beloved beverage might also have something to do with it.
By Banji Latkin Ganchrow