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Funeral Plans and All That New Orleans Jazz

Recently, my wife and I went to a funeral for someone close to us who died way too early. I’m not sure what an appropriate age is to have lived to, but 35 isn’t it. When something like this happens, many thoughts rush through our heads.

We find ourselves in the shock of grief, anger, bargaining, denial, and sadness. In cases like this, we also feel guilt. Nobody ever begins viewing familial death with acceptance. This isn’t an unknown celebrity passing on with requisite news headings scrawling across the screen. This is personal, and it’s going to affect many people.

In this case, many of those people are near and dear. This isn’t going to be a walk-out and go on with the day. Time heals all things, but sometimes, time weathers the stone face of life. “Erosion” is always happening, and life has a habit of weathering solid foundations into dust.

Plan ahead of time

So how do we ensure, when it comes our time to go, that we will have our wishes met? The answer is simple. We take a deep breath, and we start planning now for all of those who will be there to pick up the pieces. This is a plan for healing.

When I was younger and people we knew would pass on, my mom would say that funerals aren’t for the dead; rather, they are for the living. The more we plan for dying ahead of time, especially knowing that Parkinson’s progression will limit our abilities to plan later, the easier it is to handle problems later.

I know that thinking of our deaths is taboo talk for many people. We think we are immortal. We’re not going to die tomorrow. This is depressing talk. The list goes on. I get it, but it's not true. This is something we all need to think about sooner than later. Welcome to being an adult. ParkinsonsDisease.net has provided some good articles, both personal and professional:

Do you have a will? Whom do you want to get your stuff? Are your organs available for others? Do you have or want a do not resuscitate order? Is there an organization that you would like to donate your money? If so, you need to let people know, because things happen. Is your family aware of these legal decisions? Do your close team members (family, spouse, bestie) have a medical right to make decisions for you? These are uncertainties to eliminate now.

Burial and funeral

Do you want a coffin, cremation, or an environmentally conscious burial? I won’t pretend I understand every one of those “green” options, but they’re there if you’re so inclined. If you're from an inter-state relationship, where will you be buried? For instance. my wife is from Ohio, and I'm from Pennsylvania. Decisions like this have implications on who can visit and when, as well as side by side forever.

If you choose to have your ashes scattered, there are laws about how to proceed. There is also jewelry so a part of your loved one's remains can always be close to you.

What parts of your life do you want to be represented at the funeral? In the case of the funeral we attended, the deceased person’s family surrounded him with personal items. Family members created photo boards full of pictures of his life. The family chose songs to reflect his life.

A religious figure spoke for people who needed words from him. The family allowed anyone who wanted to come in through the doors of the funeral home. Additionally, the family requested his young niece to sing an impromptu song after his sister eulogized him. It was a fitting memorial for a tragic moment in a good man’s life.

Celebration of life

Thinking personally, ever since I heard David Bowie had a jazz funeral that shut down the streets of New Orleans, I knew this was what I wanted. While there won’t be floats or Mardis Gras extremes, I feel that I want my end to be a celebration of who I was. Inevitably people are going to tell stories about who the person was to them, so I might as well open the whole affair up to such.

I don’t want some big sad affair with poetry by Auden (Four Weddings and a Funeral), though if poems were to be read, I’d include local Wallace Steven’s "Emperor of Ice Cream.” That very short poem would serve the requisite literary chunk of my life.

I’d rather it be through listening to the immortal genius of the Bay City Rollers (Love Actually). Well in my case, David Bowie “5 Years”, Louis Armstrong “Wonderful World”, Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry”, Blind Faith “Presence of the Lord”, and Neutral Milk Hotel's "Aeroplane over the Sea."

This is followed after appropriate talk sessions with a 2 CD loop of Professor Longhair belting out New Orleans jazz. That guy was a madman on the piano! During Bob Marley, everyone will be mandated to sing, "Everything is gonna be all right" really loud. Really. It's an awesome catharsis.

Mentioning Parkinson's

Besides, people are going to tell tales at my wake about remembering how Dan knocked his nana’s under the bed pee bucket over while playing hide and seek as a kid. There might be yarns about how he fell off the bed while trying to be Billy Idol air-guitaring to “Rebel Yell.”

Speaking of falling, did you hear about the time how he fell backward trying to play drums and tap his foot at the same time? Of course, there are others that concern Wendy’s chili on a trip to Niagara Falls, but yes… funny stories. Laughter is a better medicine than suffering. Reframe the bad stuff into respect for a life lived.1

The last and only things I want to be shared about Parkinson’s will be: 1.) it sucks, 2.) Dan devoted his life to Parkinson’s awareness, and 3.) thanks for all of your donations to Parkinson’s research instead of flowers. It’s not that I don’t like flowers (especially Parkinson’s awareness tulip fields), but I can do flowers on photos and videos.

Besides, I’ll be narrating. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that I can’t trust people to get my life’s blurb right. A man has to do what he has to do.

Making the most of life

I know the personal parts sound eccentric, but life and death are what we make them. Aaron Purmourt's personal obituary shows what life can be (he was the husband of Health Union 2019 Connexion speaker Nora McInerney).

We can either make it a monster movie or infinite glowing beauty. Personally, I like the Mexican concept of 3 deaths (Coco), where we live on in memories after bodily death and burial (until we aren’t remembered anymore). I’ve always felt that when it comes, I’ll be going to a better place, so it’s more fitting to go out with a “toodle-loo” like poet Allen Ginsburg.

There will be enough sadness at that funeral moment, so there's no need to make it worse with impersonal awkwardness and sterile doom and gloom. Hopefully, that’s a long time away. Besides, I’ve got a lot of bucket list items to do first. Time to refocus on adding to that bucket list.

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