Last One Standing

 

This morning I went to a funeral of a woman I hardly knew. Her son is my best friend and one of the most honorable men I know. I’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit for him and it was certainly no burden to take the time today to pay respects to the good woman that raised him.

His mom was 89 and had outlived her friends and her long-ago co-workers. That left just the immediate family, my wife and I, and two other acquaintances. In a world where thousands show up for the funerals of assorted thugs and criminals,  Mrs. T was remanded to God with very little notice. It was a scene that is probably played out thousands of times per day: Quiet, dignified goodbyes for quiet, dignified people.

When you’re young, life can be a fun celebration. Weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, maybe some b’nei mitzvah and annual Christmas parties. As you get older you start to mark fewer beginnings and instead mark more closings. Graduations mean children are leaving, retirement parties mean leaving a life’s work behind, and then there’s more of the rituals of today, farewells of the very final kind.

I’ve always viewed my own potential demise as a huge event. I figured hundreds would show, half to court the widow and the other half would show up just to make sure I was really dead.

I’m pretty sure the former will happen because I’ve known for close to 30 years now that I out-kicked my coverage on the wife. I’m a bit worried about the latter as I’m afraid I haven’t nearly pissed off the number of people I once thought I did. Hopefully I have enough time left to meet my quota.

Meanwhile, life goes on. Mrs. T’s son is a doctor and will go do his regular shift tonight, helping other families cope with their anxieties and maybe even their grief, just as he bore his own grief this hot, humid day in Northeast Ohio.

Here’s to all the quiet, dignified people saying their quiet, dignified goodbyes. Truth be told, it’s the only way to go.

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  1. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    In the town where I grew up, there is a Ladies’ Consolation Committee in our Church.  I found this out after my father died, and they paid us a visit.  They brought a cake, and helped us select readings and songs for the Mass.  I talked to them a little bit about their work.  They said they try to attend every funeral Mass at the Church, especially for older members, to make sure that they have attendees to comfort the family.  I found it very touching  and decided that when I retired, I would join the Ladies’ Consolation League.  

    • #1
  2. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    You want hundreds at yours EJ? All I want is for my ashes to get tossed into the Pacific with that of other dead Navy sailors. So I can meet the sea snakes at last. 

    • #2
  3. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    I’m at that point in life where you get out your good suit too many times a year, and fish out the program from the last funeral to make room for the program you’ll get today. 

    The requirements these days seem to be a wall of photos and some mementos on a table, so I’ve set aside the proper pictures for whoever gets tasked with that job. I even considered cutting the Memorial Video, with a personal introduction, and the phrase “I hope everyone’s saying how young I look here.” I just realized I have not made clear any song or music preference. You’d best mark that down lest someone choose something they thought you liked in high school, and you’re up in the Empyrean Beyond looking down and watching everyone nod their heads in sadness to “Knock Three Times.”

    Back in 2019 I attended a funeral at the old country church to which my mother’s family belonged. Rural North Dakota. It’s from the pioneer days, plain and ancient, a pressed-tin roof with some fans stirring the air to no effect. There’s a fellowship hall whose walls have pictures of the boys who went off to various wars, with an emphasis on soft-focus studio portraits of the lads in uniform back home before they shipped out. The usual cadre of middle-aged Church Ladies brewing the coffee and assembling the cold ham sandwiches on small dry buns. I sat here as a child watching the rituals for Grandma and Grandma, although the memories are dim. Sat here when my uncle went years ago, and my cousin, an agronomist who was also a keen musician, played him off on the piano. After the ceremony I went up to talk to my cousin, whom I hadn’t seen in a few years. There was a family rumor that he was a bit unhappy I’d kept our Grandmother’s Brownie camera, as he was interested in these things.

    Well, don’t know who said that, it was nonsense, he didn’t want the old thing. We had a fine time catching up, and I got out my phone to show him the website I did about Grandma’s pictures. Out in the middle of the prairie it took a while to coax the pictures from the sky, but we sat in a pew and looked at the images of our Grandma, who’d spent all her Sundays in this very place, seen off her parents. Buried out back, she was. Buried out back, they all were. We’d go visit her before we left.

    The next time I saw him he was smiling down from an array of photos on a white board in the vestibule of the church he attended. County road, car accident. Big modern suburban church, the antithesis of the church where we’d last met. Huge parking lot. You were back in the strip malls and McDonalds and apartment houses the moment you left the lot. 

    The old family church on the prairie stands alone in the infinite fields. In the summer the land is green with oceans of waving wheat and upright corn; in the winter stark and white and birch-bleak. There are no other man-made structures around, just this humble structure with the steeple diminishing to the point where it hands everything over to the sky. In the winter the boneyard is always shoveled, and on any given Wednesday noon, the furthest and closest point to a Sunday, there will be a flower, on a grave, in the snow, a splash of color on the endless steppes of empty white. 

    My list of “last requests” is short, but I want my remains scattered hither & yon, which guarantees someone a good trip. I include some mysterious locations,  because I know my daughter would get a good book out of it, wondering why. The last handful goes in the graveyard of the prairie church, where all the names I knew are etched in rock. Where my grandma resides with her husband, where farmer uncle was laid in the land at last, where my mother was interred next to her parents, where I bent to pick up a shell from the gun that fired a salute when my father was buried. 

    Whoever leaves the ashes will drive away and see the steeple recede in the rear view mirror until it’s lost in the crops, and probably never go back there again. And that, as my practical forebears would say, is that.  

    Can’t imagine a better end. 

    • #3
  4. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    So you going to help fertilize Minnesota ag for the next 20 years? Good choice.   I just have this nightmare about sea snakes. So want to check them out. 

    • #4
  5. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    navyjag (View Comment):

    So you going to help fertilize Minnesota ag for the next 20 years? Good choice. I just have this nightmare about sea snakes. So want to check them out.

    And maybe give them indigestion as your final act?  :-)

    • #5
  6. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    kedavis (View Comment):

    navyjag (View Comment):

    So you going to help fertilize Minnesota ag for the next 20 years? Good choice. I just have this nightmare about sea snakes. So want to check them out.

    And maybe give them indigestion as your final act? :-)

    Ke I thought you were only my spell checker. But not a bad thought. 

    • #6
  7. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    I am a humble man. But James’ reply is three times better than the original post. (And proves I have much to be humble about.)

    • #7
  8. Painter Jean Member
    Painter Jean
    @PainterJean

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    The old family church on the prairie stands alone in the infinite fields. In the summer the land is green with oceans of waving wheat and upright corn; in the winter stark and white and birch-bleak. There are no other man-made structures around, just this humble structure with the steeple diminishing to the point where it hands everything over to the sky. In the winter the boneyard is always shoveled, and on any given Wednesday noon, the furthest and closest point to a Sunday, there will be a flower, on a grave, in the snow, a splash of color on the endless steppes of empty white.

    My list of “last requests” is short, but I want my remains scattered hither & yon, which guarantees someone a good trip. I include some mysterious locations, because I know my daughter would get a good book out of it, wondering why. The last handful goes in the graveyard of the prairie church, where all the names I knew are etched in rock. Where my grandma resides with her husband, where farmer uncle was laid in the land at last, where my mother was interred next to her parents, where I bent to pick up a shell from the gun that fired a salute when my father was buried.

    Whoever leaves the ashes will drive away and see the steeple recede in the rear view mirror until it’s lost in the crops, and probably never go back there again. And that, as my practical forebears would say, is that.

    Can’t imagine a better end.

    That was beautiful, James. 

    • #8
  9. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    Painter Jean (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    The old family church on the prairie stands alone in the infinite fields. In the summer the land is green with oceans of waving wheat and upright corn; in the winter stark and white and birch-bleak. There are no other man-made structures around, just this humble structure with the steeple diminishing to the point where it hands everything over to the sky. In the winter the boneyard is always shoveled, and on any given Wednesday noon, the furthest and closest point to a Sunday, there will be a flower, on a grave, in the snow, a splash of color on the endless steppes of empty white.

    My list of “last requests” is short, but I want my remains scattered hither & yon, which guarantees someone a good trip. I include some mysterious locations, because I know my daughter would get a good book out of it, wondering why. The last handful goes in the graveyard of the prairie church, where all the names I knew are etched in rock. Where my grandma resides with her husband, where farmer uncle was laid in the land at last, where my mother was interred next to her parents, where I bent to pick up a shell from the gun that fired a salute when my father was buried.

    Whoever leaves the ashes will drive away and see the steeple recede in the rear view mirror until it’s lost in the crops, and probably never go back there again. And that, as my practical forebears would say, is that.

    Can’t imagine a better end.

    That was beautiful, James.

    It certainly was. Shows  the difference between a skilled writer like James and an old Navy lawyer who sees no romantic grace in meeting the creatures he first heard about 50 years ago who might have take down one of our sailors. 

    • #9
  10. Captain French Moderator
    Captain French
    @AlFrench

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    I’m at that point in life where you get out your good suit too many times a year, and fish out the program from the last funeral to make room for the program you’ll get today.

    The requirements these days seem to be a wall of photos and some mementos on a table, so I’ve set aside the proper pictures for whoever gets tasked with that job. I even considered cutting the Memorial Video, with a personal introduction, and the phrase “I hope everyone’s saying how young I look here.” I just realized I have not made clear any song or music preference. You’d best mark that down lest someone choose something they thought you liked in high school, and you’re up in the Empyrean Beyond looking down and watching everyone nod their heads in sadness to “Knock Three Times.”

    Back in 2019 I attended a funeral at the old country church to which my mother’s family belonged. Rural North Dakota. It’s from the pioneer days, plain and ancient, a pressed-tin roof with some fans stirring the air to no effect. There’s a fellowship hall whose walls have pictures of the boys who went off to various wars, with an emphasis on soft-focus studio portraits of the lads in uniform back home before they shipped out. The usual cadre of middle-aged Church Ladies brewing the coffee and assembling the cold ham sandwiches on small dry buns. I sat here as a child watching the rituals for Grandma and Grandma, although the memories are dim. Sat here when my uncle went years ago, and my cousin, an agronomist who was also a keen musician, played him off on the piano. After the ceremony I went up to talk to my cousin, whom I hadn’t seen in a few years. There was a family rumor that he was a bit unhappy I’d kept our Grandmother’s Brownie camera, as he was interested in these things.

    Well, don’t know who said that, it was nonsense, he didn’t want the old thing. We had a fine time catching up, and I got out my phone to show him the website I did about Grandma’s pictures. Out in the middle of the prairie it took a while to coax the pictures from the sky, but we sat in a pew and looked at the images of our Grandma, who’d spent all her Sundays in this very place, seen off her parents. Buried out back, she was. Buried out back, they all were. We’d go visit her before we left.

    The next time I saw him he was smiling down from an array of photos on a white board in the vestibule of the church he attended. County road, car accident. Big modern suburban church, the antithesis of the church where we’d last met. Huge parking lot. You were back in the strip malls and McDonalds and apartment houses the moment you left the lot.

    The old family church on the prairie stands alone in the infinite fields. In the summer the land is green with oceans of waving wheat and upright corn; in the winter stark and white and birch-bleak. There are no other man-made structures around, just this humble structure with the steeple diminishing to the point where it hands everything over to the sky. In the winter the boneyard is always shoveled, and on any given Wednesday noon, the furthest and closest point to a Sunday, there will be a flower, on a grave, in the snow, a splash of color on the endless steppes of empty white.

    My list of “last requests” is short, but I want my remains scattered hither & yon, which guarantees someone a good trip. I include some mysterious locations, because I know my daughter would get a good book out of it, wondering why. The last handful goes in the graveyard of the prairie church, where all the names I knew are etched in rock. Where my grandma resides with her husband, where farmer uncle was laid in the land at last, where my mother was interred next to her parents, where I bent to pick up a shell from the gun that fired a salute when my father was buried.

    Whoever leaves the ashes will drive away and see the steeple recede in the rear view mirror until it’s lost in the crops, and probably never go back there again. And that, as my practical forebears would say, is that.

    Can’t imagine a better end.

    That’s just beautiful, James.

    • #10
  11. Wiscosotan Member
    Wiscosotan
    @AlanMartinson

    While we were recently visiting our new granddaughter (and her parents), my wife was on the phone with our other son.  He reminded her to “take a picture of Dad for his funeral board.”

    • #11
  12. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    I’m at that point in life where you get out your good suit too many times a year, and fish out the program from the last funeral to make room for the program you’ll get today.

    . . .

    Can’t imagine a better end.

    I’ve often joked that I want to be cremated, then have my ashes shot out of a submarine’s torpedo tube in the middle of the Atlantic.  The CO would then give my widow (or children) a chart showing the location where Dear Old Dad was deposited . . .

    • #12
  13. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    Can’t imagine a better end. 

    And dear man . . . I can’t imagine a more poignantly poetic take on these matters as you’ve shared here.   

    • #13
  14. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    but I want my remains scattered hither & yon, which guarantees someone a good trip.

    Now there’s an idea. 

    • #14
  15. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Thank you all for your kind remarks, and for reading; much appreciated. 

    • #15
  16. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    In the past there was Johnny Appleseed.  In the future, Tommy Lileks-ashes.

     

    • #16
  17. cqness Member
    cqness
    @cqness

    Stad (View Comment):

    I’ve often joked that I want to be cremated, then have my ashes shot out of a submarine’s torpedo tube in the middle of the Atlantic. The CO would then give my widow (or children) a chart showing the location where Dear Old Dad was deposited . . .

    If you are a Navy veteran it is possible to arrange to have your ashes interred at sea.   A ship, destroyer size or smaller usually, will conduct the ceremony when the ship is scheduled to be underway for other local exercises.  The ship will stop dead-in-the-water and a chaplain can conduct a brief service if requested.   A chart marking the exact position is provided to the family.

    Some denominations require ashes to be placed in consecrated ground and I’m not aware if the open ocean is considered such, but there certainly were many burials at sea during our past wars so I have a feeling there is some sort of dispensation.  I don’t think the ashes can be scattered, rather they are to be in a vessel or container that is wrapped in canvas and weighted to make the it sink.  I also think a Marine veteran can be buried this way.  Probably the Coast Guard has something similar.

    • #17
  18. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    cqness: If you are a Navy veteran it is possible to arrange to have your ashes interred at sea.

    Navy, Marine or civilian personnel of the Military Sealift Command. 

    From military.com:

    After the eligible person dies, the next-of-kin, or authorized individual (relative, clergy, funeral director, etc.)  should contact the Navy and Marine Corps Mortuary Affairs office at 866-787-0081 to request a packet and for additional information.

    The request must include:

    • a photocopy of the death certificate
    • the burial transit permit or the cremation certificate
    • a copy of the DD Form 214, discharge certificate, or retirement order.
    • #18
  19. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    My husband’s father died a few months before we were married. After the bleak winter of Minnesota melted into the slow spring, we scattered his ashes in places around our town. I knew these places, but only my husband and his dad knew them like they knew each other’s footsteps in the dark. A few in the woods behind the now demolished house, a few raked into the outfield of his childhood ballpark, etc. But in the end, as @ejhill so bittersweetly reminds us at least we had our “quiet, dignified goodbyes.” And still do, each time we drive past the ballpark, now with the grandson he never knew. Thanks, EJ.

    • #19
  20. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    EJHill (View Comment):

    cqness: If you are a Navy veteran it is possible to arrange to have your ashes interred at sea.

    Navy, Marine or civilian personnel of the Military Sealift Command.

    From military.com:

    After the eligible person dies, the next-of-kin, or authorized individual (relative, clergy, funeral director, etc.) should contact the Navy and Marine Corps Mortuary Affairs office at 866-787-0081 to request a packet and for additional information.

    The request must include:

    • a photocopy of the death certificate
    • the burial transit permit or the cremation certificate
    • a copy of the DD Form 214, discharge certificate, or retirement order.

    actually not very complicated.  Helped my JAGC mentor’s ashes onto a ship several years ago. Regularly assigned missions for ships in San Diego and Jacksonville, Fla.  But my dad, a Marine pilot, wanted his in the water by Pensacola.  So had lug his down there. Worked out fine. 

    • #20
  21. SecondBite Member
    SecondBite
    @SecondBite

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Thank you all for your kind remarks, and for reading; much appreciated.

    To be sweetly nostalgic for one’s own prospective demise requires a rare ability.

    • #21
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