I've been planning my funeral for years now, and it's going to be a glorious affair, let me tell you. Now some might see that as morbid creepifying, you might say but I hasten to assure you that it's far from the truth.

I was raised around funerals. And weddings. I come from a big family: my father's the youngest of eleven siblings, my mother is the middle child of seven. Weddings and funerals were at the center of our family social calendar. When you think of it, there are any number of similarities between the two: the church service, the flowers, the receiving line, the glowing comments concerning how well the bride/corpse is looking, the uncomfortable chairs at the reception, the food. The only big discrepancy is that after a funeral no one throws bouquets or garters. Or not that I've seen anyway.

Funerals worked their way into my childhood in remarkable ways. Our church school (St. Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Day School in New Britain, Connecticut) was literally attached to our church building. When the congregation decided to build a new church and school in the Year of our Lord 1960, the school went up first. Once that was finished, the church services were moved into the large gymnasium/auditorium/lunch room in the new school during construction of the church building. During the school week we would file into the gymnasium/auditorium/lunch room, sit at the folding tables and eat the lunches prepared and served by the Ladies Aid Society. On Sundays, the lunch tables would come down and the folding chairs for the congregation would be put up along the floor of the gym; the stage at one end would hold the podium for Pastor Wilde to deliver his sermons; the choir would take up position in the small row of bleachers off to the side. After the service the chairs would come down and the lunch tables would go back up.

But sometimes school and church would overlap. Like the day we filed into the gymnasium/auditorium/lunch room and saw the coffin up on risers at the other end of the room. The Ladies Aid ladies paid it no mind, but we were fascinated, of course. Our teachers warned us not to cross down to the other end and bother anything. The coffin was surrounded by flowers; the smell did not mix gently with the odors coming from the kitchen. Up in the bleachers, Mrs. Jabs she of the Wagnerian physique and the Ethel Merman voice was practicing a dirge. "She is not dead but sleepeth!" To this day I cannot eat tuna noodle casserole without getting a scent of flowers and hearing the cutting soprano voice of Mrs. Jabs.

For over a year we shared our lunch room with various deceased congregants. The strangeness of it all wore off quickly, replaced by the happy knowledge that it meant we'd get an early release that day. (The first lunch room funeral apparently was marred by us kids laughing and hollering in the hallways on our way out of school during the service.) "In the midst of life we are in death," the Bible says. The reverse is also true.

So you see, death is nothing to feel morbid about not from where I stand. And considering that I never was interested in getting married but always assumed that I was going to die one day (maybe), it made perfect sense to me to filter my creative imagination toward an End of My Days ceremony.

I've settled on a Viking funeral - with some adjustments for the fact that 1) I am not a Viking, 2) I would never sacrifice a dog and 3) local laws prohibit the burning of bodies on the waterways around my home. Minor matters, all of them.

The plan is this then. My remains are cremated. My friend, Frank, will pick up the urn with my ashes and drive it and our friends to my brother's house in Connecticut. There he will find my plastic Viking helmet (with horns but without fake braids), my stuffed Golden Retriever, and the wooden replica of a Viking ship that I will have commissioned from a local artist. The urn, the hat, and the dog go on the ship. The ship goes into the swimming pool. The ship goes up in flames while Wagner plays loudly. A moment of silence, then a cheer should go up to send me on my way. Afterwards, my friends and family will party and dance in my memory.

That's it. That's all I want. No flowers. No wake. No receiving line and uncomfortable chairs.

Oh, and no tuna noodle casserole, please.


Written 08/20/03

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