I’ve been talking and writing for a while now about organizing for your legacy. This involves doing things to make it easier on your grieving loved ones when the time comes, by preparing for your own death. Activities can range from writing your own obituary and planning your own funeral; to preserving your memorabilia and organizing your family history; to creating a virtual will and downsizing and decluttering now so they don’t have to later.
So, when I announced to my dad and brother, at a recent breakfast together, “Let’s talk about funerals!” they didn’t even flinch, replying in unison: “Whose? Yours?”
I had an idea I wanted to run past them that I wasn’t sure they’d like. It wasn’t a terrible risk, though, based on previous conversations we’ve had about things such as Dad’s Kick-The-Bucket Flow Chart, with which he surprised us one day several years ago. It amused me to note that he had based it (loosely) on my own Clutter Flow Charts!
Funerals are for the living
I’d attended a memorial service just the day before, for a lovely library co-volunteer whom we all miss now. The service was fine, I guess. Rather long, as I gather Catholic masses generally are. And comforting to the family, it seems. I have attended so few memorial services in my life that I have little to compare it to. But I did sit there thinking, “This is not what I want.”
I’ve heard that funerals aren’t for the dead; they are for the living. For those left behind. And I wondered – would my friends and family mind terribly if I didn’t have a funeral at all? Like, for real? Is it just because I’m an introvert, or worried that no one will come to my party, that I don’t want to plan a funeral? (Mine, or anyone else’s, I might add.) Would it be selfish to insist that I don’t want one? Or… would it be a stroke of genius, and a relief to them, too? Would they do what I have in mind, instead, if I planned it? Turns out my dad and brother were all in.
The problem: far-flung survivors
I know a lot of people. And most of them don’t know each other or live near me. They fall into too many categories to count: current, childhood, and college friends; former phone company co-workers; professional organizing colleagues (local, national, and international); organizing and genealogy clients; Menendez supporters; current and former book club members; current and former neighbors; business and networking associates; library co-volunteers; and former lovers that no one else remembers, much less knows how to contact. (I’m just sayin’!)
Which begs the question: If funerals are for the living, how would a traditional funeral benefit more than a handful of these people? I don’t have a church community to support my family in executing such an event. I’ve moved around in my life — IN, ID, CO, CA, NM — as have most of us these days. I’ve made true friends through social media, some of which I met in person at a conference and got to know better afterwards by staying in touch virtually. Even my closest “real life” friends and family are far-flung, scattered across the US and abroad.
I can’t be the only one in this position…can I?
But… I DO want to be remembered.
And, I want those who will miss me to have a source of comfort.
Funeral, virtual funeral, memorial service, rosary, mass, viewing, etc.
What’s the difference between a funeral and a memorial service? The mortuary industry on the internet seems to agree: “A funeral service typically takes place with the body of the departed present, whereas a memorial service takes place without the actual body present.” It’s also a memorial service when the person’s ashes, or “cremains” are present.
It seems that these terms, and what they involve, and when and where they take place, are subject to interpretation through the filters of era, religion, region, and family tradition.
But it doesn’t really matter what they’re called if I don’t want any of them, does it?
If you Google “virtual funeral” what you get is information about streaming videos, with a real funeral happening live on one end, and people elsewhere watching it remotely. That’s not what I’m talking about here, the title of this blog post notwithstanding.
What I really want is NEITHER funeral, NOR memorial service.
The solution: a virtual wake
I want a virtual social-media-style wake in the Urban Dictionary sense:
An Irish wake is basically a party after the death of a family member or friend. Usually used…to get drunk and tell stories…about the deceased.
So, it was with relief that I discovered Ancestry’s We Remember memory pages at the 2018 Before I Die New Mexico Festival. (I was invited to participate in a panel discussion called “Downsizing and Keeping Your Family Legacy”, which you can view here in its entirety.) We Remember is a place in cyberspace where people can grab a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine, or the beverage of their choice) and sit down, at their leisure — alone, or in small groups — to share stories and photos about the dearly departed. Just like on social media, they can also read and comment on each other’s posts.
We Remember looks and feels Pinterest-esque. It seems interactive, touching, and — dare I say it? — fun. I think my family would enjoy seeing photos, and reading stories, from my friends and associates they’ve never met, and vice versa. It isn’t a static memorial such as many mortuary websites, and Find A Grave, offer these days. And it’s not like a Facebook profile (either intentionally memorialized, or sadly and unintentionally neglected) that will come back to haunt you every year on my birthday. Besides, some of the most important people in my life are not on Facebook. (Crazy, I know!)
Where and when will I be buried, then?
Good question! I have ¼ of a plot set aside for me (my urn, that is) at Sunset Memorial here in Albuquerque. The genealogist in me wants a physical location, with a marker, where people can come visit “me” if they want to. And I hope my family will continue our luminarias at the cemetery Christmas Eve tradition, at least for a while. (The story I’ve linked to involves my mom’s ashes, which were not buried until a year and a half after her death, which set a precedent for unorthodox burials in my family.)
At the same time, I have always wanted my ashes scattered in Yosemite Valley, one of the most beautiful places on earth, and one where I have many happy memories. I always thought it was illegal, and that I would have to coach my family to do it surreptitiously. But it turns out it’s perfectly legal if you have a permit and follow park guidelines!
So, for me, when the time comes, we don’t need a physical venue, or flowers, or food. I do still need to give my family a list of contacts — one contact person to spread the word in each social circle mentioned above — to keep in a safe place, along with my social media logins and everything else contained in my virtual will.
Here is my personal favorite non-profit (in lieu of flowers):
(I donate to the favorite non-profits of my own departed loved ones on their birthdays, as described in Organized Charitable Giving.)
Or, donate to your own favorite charity, I don’t really care that much. Maybe you’ll have your own unique way to remember me that I’ll never know about!
Here are a couple of songs I like for the occasion (maybe I can upload them to We Remember?):
Alleluia, The Great Storm is Over (the John McCutcheon autoharp version of Bob Franke’s song)
I’ll Fly Away (the Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch version from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”)
(Hmmm…both songs use birds-taking-flight imagery….giving my egret-taking-flight business logo new meaning… Less clutter. More life. …um… Fewer loose ends on earth, more eternal life?… Less clutter left behind, more peace of mind in the hereafter?)
Here’s a favorite poem:
Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there.
I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there.
I did not die.
— Mary Frye
And here’s a last request:
Please don’t let them put ‘Miss’ on my tombstone.
I haven’t missed as much as they think.
(I’m just sayin’!)
So….what do you think? Has this post reminded you of anything you want to take care of before you die, to ease the burden of those you leave behind? Want my help planning your virtual funeral (or real-live one)?
Would you attend a virtual social-media-style wake?
Would you want one for yourself?
I’m “dying” to know!
Copyright 2019 by Hazel Thornton, Organized for Life.
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