Rites of Obituaries

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Thinking About My Own Demise

When my father died I began thinking about my own demise, for several reasons. I am approaching the traditional stage known as ‘old age’. I read a lot of obituaries and many of those persons are my age or younger.

His funeral, memorial service, and all of that was very traditional. Which is fine.

Being a veteran, he received a military send-off. Being a veteran myself, I appreciated that. But he was a true soldier, having fought in WWII, with honor and distinction. I can claim no such thing. Not that I want to.

Anyway, I began thinking that to some extent I could control some of what will take place at my own final farewell. What could I do? I could write something, but that’s too egotistical. Let someone else do that. The only music I remember at his parting is the bugler playing “Taps.”

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Songs That Define Your Life

I thought my love of music could play a great part in how I say good-bye. So I began listening to songs that might work to define my life.

Much of this has taken place over the past twenty years. It’s not a subject I dwelt upon, but it was always in my mind. I didn’t think about it everyday, or anything like that. Just when a personal milestone has been reached.

And now, working at the Roundup and posting the paper on the Internet, I see and read many things, three times a week. It has helped crystalize my direction and end ceremony.

Posting the newspaper to the net has several perspectives. Ever since doing it, I’ve come to make a few pronouncements. One of them concerns Obituaries.

I have seen many ways people write about their deceased loved ones. Some good, some bad, some over the top, some so sparse, it makes me sad and sometimes I even cry.

In My Case, I Have A Few Ideas About How I’d Like My Obit To Be Taken Care Of

Number One: You had better find a damn good picture of this body (face) when I looked decent but not using one of me so young it is an insult to me and mine. I have enough pictures, you should be able to find something suitable. And make sure it isn’t scratched and flecked with dust particles or faded. But I’ll take care of that.

Number Two: Be honest. I don’t want some garbage about me being with the Lord God in my heavenly home, happy at last. I believe in God, but please, no fairytale crap. Please, don’t say; “He passed away on such and such a date.” I died. You hear that? I died. We all die. I didn’t pass from one place to another. I stopped breathing and died.

Number Three: Be concise, accurate, fair, plain and tell some high points of this life. Don’t be pathetically short; I have lived a pretty cool life. But don’t drag it out and be maudlin, either. I ain’t no saint, and make no claim to being any kind of a good guy. There are many things I haven’t had the guts to do, that people better than me have done and never complained, whined or bragged about it.

Number Four: Make sure you play the music I have selected at my memorial service or funeral or whatever and play them in the order I want them in. And play them both in the church, if I’m allowed in there, and at the gravesite.

Here Are The Songs And The Order Of Play

1. In the Living Years, by Mike and the Mechanics.

2. Don’t Lose Heart, by Dan Fogelberg, and finally and most importantly

3. The Star Spangled Banner, by Jimi Hendrix. If you don’t play his version, you will never sleep again.

I have come to think about these things because of all the obits I’ve read. I have seen a lot of crap that passes for an obituary. It continually surprises me. People treat their deceased relatives, friends or whomever with so little respect, or they turn them immediately into saints, both sides are bullsh*t.

I know people love someone who has died, but have some sense. We all are born, live rather ordinary and regular lives and then die, some of us unexpectedly, some, not so much.

But let’s be respectful. Saints, if you have studied those who are purportedly of such a stature, have done amazing things to reach those heights. Just because people you know were members of the Elks, Moose, Kiwanis, or whatever, does not qualify your dearly departed for sainthood.

Let’s also be respectful of those who only get a sentence or two in their obituary. Come on, everyone has done something of note. If you think about it long enough, everyone has done something worth remembering. Honor your relative and include that in their obituary.

Why I Picked The Songs I Have And Why Include Them As Part Of A Memorial zService?

In the Living Years is a song about misconnection, regret, loss and missed opportunity. I identified with that song the moment I heard it and knew I had to have that as a song of my last words about my own father. And for my sons to reflect on their father, when I die.

I had ample time with my dad to talk about life, to ask him about his life, to photograph him, to record what he said and ask him a million questions before he died. I did none of it. I sat silently in the sun room with him in his house and sometimes talked about mundane things. What a fool. I had the opportunity of a lifetime that would never come again and I did nothing.

So, I can relate to the song, In the Living Years. I don’t listen to it very much. It is too powerful and meaningful to waste on everyday playing. It has become a sacred song, for me. It WILL be played at my last good-bye.

Don’t Lose Heart, by Dan Fogelberg, has replaced Amazing Grace, by Judy Collins. Collins version of that timeless song is probably the best version, ever. And I like it dearly.

However, Dan Fogelberg has replaced all former musicians and is now my favorite singer/songwriter, of all time. I cannot adequately explain why, except to say, he has touched the core of my heart/soul in more ways than any other singer/songwriter has ever done. It’s like, we have lived many of the same experiences and he has expressed them better than I ever could.

Fogelberg Speaks Plainly

He can touch your heart on the first listen. He reaches into you and knows what you went through when you met your first love in the grocery store again after half a lifetime had passed between you.

He knew when you and your dad had your difference of opinion and what it meant for both of you, but also how much understanding, tolerance, confidence and love, your father displayed when he said yes to your desire to strike out on your own (Leader of the Band).

Therefore, Don’t Lose Heart, has replaced, Amazing Grace. It is more contemporary, it reaches into that personal area we all have and explains why we are the way we are and then says to us, it’s okay, you’re good to go. You are okay, and I’ll always be your friend. You have a shoulder to lean on in times of stress and doubt. Don’t worry, I’ll be there for you. Now that is about as true as you can get.

And then there is Jimi. The first time I heard his version of our national anthem I wanted to start a crusade to make his version the only version. Believe me, no one has ever played that the way Jimi plays it and I don’t think anyone can ever play it like that.

After I heard it a few more times, I realized Jimi Hendrix is the only person who could do it justice, so it would never catch on and be heard as his version. I don’t really like the national anthem, except when Jimi plays it. For me, it is the only version. Being a veteran and getting a veterans burial service, I want that as my final song. I am patriotic, probably more patriotic than most people, but I never wear that patriotism on my sleeve.

Why include music? Music has been at the core of my life since I first understood how powerful it is and can be. I cannot sing, cannot keep a beat, cannot play an instrument, but, I understand the power of music and enjoy it so much, that it has influenced much of my life. Therefore, it will be a strong remembrance of who I was and what influenced me and how it has directed my life.

Amazing What One Little Activity Can Lead To

Life is like that. Some small action that is repeated but never with the same information, can shape future thoughts and ideas through the repeated use of the same but slightly different information.

So there you have it. Now all I need to do is to make out a will, to ensure this takes place the way I want it.

Andy Towle is a photojournalist and writer at the Payson Roundup. His photos (and articles) appear in the paper and on the Roundup’s website frequently.