Odds are this post will offend you if you are easily offended. Hell, it might offend you if you are not easily offended. I don’t know really but I have my suspicions. I know how this world works. There is going to be some strong language. What I have to say is completely irreverent on a subject that many people find taboo. I am going to say some things that might hurt some people who can’t see past their own wants, needs and desires and look at things from a different perspective. I’m sorry. Honestly I am, but being sorry doesn’t change my feelings on the subject and the only honest way for me share my feelings is to say it in the way I want to say it. I am at the point in my life where I just don’t give a shit about what other people think anymore. I’ve spent 36 years deeply caring about being a nice person and someone that other people want to get along with and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere. In fact, it has gotten me completely shit on more times than I can count. I’m over trying to be that guy. I am beginning to deeply feel my mortality and I realize that life is just too damn short for me to let other people dictate how I express myself. My hope is that you read to the end before getting pissed off because I think by then you will understand what I am doing here and maybe not be so insulted.
I hate funerals. I fucking despise funerals. I hate everything about funerals. It is almost as though funerals are designed to make people who are already having some of the worst days of their lives feel just that much worse. Just think about the last funeral you attended. Odds are it was a gathering of a bunch of people in clothes they hate wearing talking about shit they don’t like talking about while having to face the fact that someone they cared about is gone forever. Funerals are sad, depressing events that are forced on us because of some fucked up idea that death is a sad thing. The last thing I want for my family and friends is for them to have to come see the meat sack that was once me laying in a box waiting to be tucked away in some hole for eternity only to have to remember that I was alive just the other day but now they will never, ever have the opportunity to be with me ever again. Funerals are sadistic little circuses that almost never reflect who the person was in life. I honestly don’t understand the need for funerals and I certainly don’t want one for myself.
When my grandfather passed away earlier this year, I discussed my feelings about funerals with my own father and he said something that really hit me pretty hard. As I was ranting about funerals, my dad, who doesn’t really have a lot of patience with my ranting on a good day and certainly not the day after my grandfather passed, looked at me and said:
“Jeff, funerals aren’t about what you want. They are about what the rest of the family wants. Funerals aren’t for remembering the dead as much as they are the opportunity for the living to say goodbye.”
Intuitively I knew he was right but I never really gave it much thought. Funerals aren’t about you because you’re dead. You’re an ex-person. What you want doesn’t matter one bit any more. No, funerals are about what everyone else wants. Dad was right and I let the subject drop I but the idea never fell from my mind. Something always seemed wrong and eventually I realized the idea that the needs of the family being the most important thing about a funeral is complete bullshit. Let me explain…
As I stated above, I have been alive just barely over 36 years. Not old, but old enough. In all of those years I have done very little of what I want. I can’t begin to count the days where I woke up and thought “All right, a whole day where I don’t have to do shit for anyone. What I do today will only matter to me and I can go out and enjoy it completely as I please.” I can’t begin to count those days because I don’t know if I have ever had one. There has always been someone that had a claim over my life and my actions.
Let’s start at the beginning, when I was a kid it was my parents. Mostly it was my mom. My dad was the traditional white, middle class father who went to work everyday so I didn’t see to much of him most of the time but I saw plenty of my mom. She was the one I had to pass everything through so I knew I could only do shit she thought was OK. I couldn’t get up at 7:00 and pretend I was in a rock band by banging pots and pans together. Hell no, I couldn’t do that and it wasn’t because it was somehow dangerous for me but because it might wake her ass up before lunch. On second thought, I guess I could have done that just as long as I didn’t mind getting my ass beaten with a wooden ruler or one of those plastic bottomed house slippers. As a kid that wasn’t a big deal though. Mom was the parent and I had to follow her rules. Kids have to have rules to keep them from doing things like burning LEGOs in a garbage can. I get that, but it goes deeper too doesn’t it. How many kids are allowed to say what they really want and have that opinion seriously considered much less acted upon? Take vacation as an example. Maybe I wanted to go to Disney World as a kid. Even if we went would I get the opportunity to experience it how I wanted? Fuck no! The discussion might go something like this…
Dad: “Sure son, we can go to Disney World but no we won’t ride Space Mountain all fucking day because these tickets are expensive and we need to see all this other fake shit to make it worth the money!”
Kid: “But Dad, I don’t want to see a 360 degree movie about Holland. It’s boring and standing up looking at all of that stuff moving around makes me queasy and Space Mountain is SOOOOOO AWESOME!”
Dad: “Well, that’s too bad because that’s what were’re doing. Oh, and that really cool restaurant you saw in the advertisement with video games built right into the table…yeah, you can forget that shit. We’re going to smuggle peanut butter sandwiches and hot ass soda into the park and eat it like criminals over by the shitters ’cause that park food is a rip off. How ya like them apples buddy? Oh, and guess what! We’ll also be stopping at some Civil War memorials every hour so I regret to tell you our time at that amusement park is going to be pretty short but you’re going to love looking at empty fields and a shit ton of little pyramids made out of cannon balls.”
No, kids might be able to make suggestions but their desires are ALWAYS reigned in at some point by the needs, wants, and desires of their parents. Parents control the lives of their kids out of necessity but the fact remains that for the first 16 years or so of life, you are clearly under the thumb of someone else. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this or that it should change but my point is that until we are out from under our parents, our lives are not our own and, quite frankly, not even then.
Oh, and let’s not forget about school and all the shit that goes along with being shuffled off to those little prisons. By the time you are 7 until at least the end of your teenage years you spend most of your waking, productive hours under the control of some other person of likely mediocre education and low pay. We have created an environment where we send our kids to people that have every reason to be unhappy and yet we expect them to create a nation of geniuses. Yeah, that’s conducive to the human spirit right? As a kid, not only do you have to follow a whole new set of rules and regulations but you have to deal with all the other social bullshit that comes with being around other people that are often bigger and stronger than you. Teachers, principles, friends, bullies, all of these fuckers have some claim on how you live your life. Or, at least they act like it. Nevertheless, no matter what you do you have to weigh all the consequences of how those actions will affect other people. Again, your life is not your own.
At some point you graduate high school and go on to college or some job or some other thing. For me it was college and I found myself alone for the first time in my life but not entirely free. No one ever told me I didn’t have to go to college, that maybe I could see the world, or anything like that. No, it was expected of me to go to school and that’s what I did. I don’t know if that’s what I wanted or not but I did it. Instead of moving far fucking away from home I stayed at right there and when to a local college. It was completely my choice and it was wrong but that is another story for another time. Anyway, I now had both my parents to contend with AND college which resulted in even more people telling me what to do and how I should be and what I should think and whatever else the fuck all happens in college. There was always something I HAD to do for someone else. Study, go to class, work, whatever. Never did I have the opportunity to sit on the couch for a week and watch Comedy Central and let me assure you at 19 that’s what I would have done given the chance. Even then I just wanted people to leave me the fuck alone.
Look, everyone knows where this is going right? Just as soon as we are out from under the tyranny of our parents we find ourselves under the thumb of someone else be it a wife or a boss, or kids, or whatever but we NEVER get to just be alive and enjoy living on our own terms. Of course my story is not unique. It is the same story for almost everyone I meet. It’s just the way things are. Sometimes a lucky few will somehow find a way to have the resources to do whatever the fuck they want to do whenever they want to do it but for most of us from birth to death we all have someone to answer to and someone, somewhere always has a claim over a portion of our lives.
I use that word, “claim”, repetitively and I do it on purpose because it is uniquely describes the situation I am talking about. For example, if you are married, go out and do something that you know will piss your spouse off. Not something that really hurts anyone else but something that just infuriates your spouse. Something that would make them mad on a deeply personal level. Maybe it is just stopping by a bar on the way home or maybe, if you are a nerd like me, it is spending 20 minutes at the local comic book store instead of coming home right away. Do that thing, whatever it is, and then just wait until that person in your life finds out about it and starts reading you the riot act because of it. Listen closely to what they say because what you will hear is a bunch of things about how what you did affects that other person. It will all be some veiled argument about how you don’t have the right to choose how you live your life. It is in this way that other people have a “claim” on part of your life and how each of us has a responsibility to live part of our lives for someone else.
The thing is, this is how our society works. It has to if it is going to be effective and prosperous. In order to have a safe society where people can do things together and increase the overall happiness in their lives we each have to give up a part of ourselves for the good of the whole. I am not unique in this. We all give up a part of ourselves for the people around us. As much as any one person has a claim on part of my life, I have a claim on theirs. I don’t think we realize or think about this much but it is true. The trouble starts when sometimes the balance gets out of whack and some people take more than their share of someone else. I am not truly mad at anyone be it my mom, my wife, my child, my boss, or anyone else that claims or has claimed part of my life for their own. Sure sometimes it is frustrating and the obligations chafe a bit but I understand why the system exists and why it works. We enter into things like marriage and parenthood with the understanding that we are giving up some of our freedom for someone else. This is just part of being a human in a society. The only thing that varies is how much of our lives we have to give up.
It is for this reason that funerals suck.
Remember what my father said, “Jeff, funerals aren’t about what you want. They are about what the rest of the family wants.”
Even our deaths are claimed by others for their own desires. Again I say this is bullshit. If there is ONE thing that we should have complete control over it is what happens when we die. If you want a big church full of crying people in uncomfortable clothes listening to shitty music and lying about how much they loved you in life then I hope you get that. Let’s be honest though, of all the people you have ever known that died, how many of them would have said their funeral is exactly what they would have wanted? Do you really want your rotting corpse to be displayed in a velvet lined box surrounded by a bunch of gaudy flowers in a room that smells vaguely of wet dog and old socks? I’m betting not.
The traditional idea of a funeral and burial is horrible to me. I truly fucking despise wearing a tie. I had best not be buried in one because if am, I am going to haunt some mother fuckers ruthlessly for the rest of eternity. Who really desires to be alive in a suit or some itchy church dress for even 10 minutes? Try to imagine being in those clothes FOREVER!!!! Not me sir! I don’t expect people to wear suits to come to my funeral. In fact, I don’t want a funeral. I want a party. A party where people can come in shorts, or sweatshirts if it is cold, and enjoy themselves for a little while. What I want is a few hours were people can say whatever the hell they want about me, good or bad. Fuck, I don’t care, I’m dead. I want Star Wars, the original Han Shoots First one, playing on a big screen over in one corner and another big ass screen with Super Mario Bros. going in another. I want my funeral…no, fuck that,…I don’t want to call it a funeral…I want to call it something else. Maybe something like Jeff’s Final Geek Jam or some shit and I want it to be about remembering and sharing all the stupid and childish but cool crap I enjoyed in life. I want people to come and eat hamburgers and chicken fingers and kettle cooked potato chips and spaghetti and drink some Ale-8-1 and yeah, even Kool-Aid because I know there are some assholes out there that think drinking Kool-Aid as an adult is ridiculous but I love it. I want my family to bring all the comic books, and action figures, and games, and other stuff of mine to the party and share it all with everyone. You want that issue of Batman with the really awesome Scarecrow art on the cover? It’s yours, enjoy it on me! I don’t want the back room to be a place for the family to have time alone by themselves I want them to setup my poker table back there and run a tournament for the guys I play cards with. I want the people that show up to have a good time talking about whatever it is they want to talk about. I want people who haven’t seen each other in years to sit down with old friends and just enjoy the company. Then, at the end, I want everyone to get up, go outside, and toast fucking marshmallows over my burning body (because I think burying people is also insanely ridiculous) and then make S’more’s while all the kids get to light fireworks and play with laser pointers. You know why, because that’s what I want and for once, before everything about me disappears forever, I want to have something that is just for me.
One of the worst things about funerals is that they are the only time people who have grown apart get to see each other and it is one of the saddest and most miserable times in their lives. You aren’t supposed to sit in the back of the church or funeral home laughing it up about things that happened since you last saw your friends or the things you did when you were young. You aren’t supposed to do that but you should. That funerals have to be somber is just more bullshit.
At my grandfather’s funeral there was an incident that some people may have found immensely disrespectful of my grandfather. The service was getting close to starting and my aunt got up to get the box of tissue from near the casket. When she grabbed the box she didn’t realize that it was covered with one of those decorative tissue box covers. She came away with just the cover and no tissues. Lisa didn’t realize this until halfway back to her seat when she looked at the box with one of those confused, “what the fuck” looks that people sometimes have. It was roughly at this point that all of the family broke out laughing. You kind of have to know us and especially my aunt Lisa to really understand why that was funny but to all of us it was and we all laughed. We laughed as the funeral music played and we laughed as everyone looked on and it was that one moment and really only that one moment that I think my grandfather would have actually enjoyed about the entire process. That one moment said EVERYTHING you ever needed to know about my grandfather and yet it is probably the one thing most people would say should never happen at a funeral.
That’s what I want for Jeff’s Final Geek Jam but not just one moment though but a whole bunch of moments and I want that not because I care that my family has a good time and a happy memory but just because that is just what I want. It’s really unbelievably simple in a way. I just want that final opportunity to control one portion of my life (or death as it may be) without having to consider what everyone else wants. What my dad said is often true. Funerals are for the family because the dead are dead but it seems to me that funerals are the most disrespectful things of all to do to the people we love.
Oh, and I am dead fucking serious about that tie thing. If I am cremated in a tie and come to find out that there actually is an eternity (boy will I be surprised) and I have to spend it with one of those damn things around my neck I am going to be one seriously pissed off spirit and the person responsible isn’t going to be able to do shit without me trying to screw with them FOREVER.
I thought of most of this on the drive home the other day. I’ve been listening to a bunch of stand-up comedy and I kind of drafted this as a “bit”. I left out some of the material I came up with…mostly stuff about being married and being a father but I can see it being refined into something that could be done on stage with a George Carlin type of delivery. It would need to be polished and worked on to make it funnier and have the right comedic beats but I see how it could work. Anyway, if you feel upset by anything here go back and read it again as if you were at a show and maybe it won’t be so bad. Don’t get me wrong, it comes from the heart and I really do want my life to end exactly that way.
Oh, and if I didn’t use the word “coda” correctly then fuck off. I couldn’t care less.