My dad died Sunday. As you can see by the title of this post, I’m not a big fan of tradition or of euphemisms, so saying he died suits me far better than saying he “passed” or “went home.”
I know the normal thing to do would be to write a glowing tribute to my dad. I did that already. (You can read it at A Legacy of Joy with a Killer Punch Line.) That post was written in tears. This post was written with laughter and with a fair amount of head shaking.
One of the greatest gifts my father gave me was to instill in me a complete and utter disdain of tradition. Sometimes that disdain of tradition raised a few eyebrows, but that never mattered to him. All that mattered to him was to always be honest–with himself and with others–and to always do things in a way that was right for him.
So here’s what led me to write this post. It may seem like a silly matter, but it seemed huge a few hours ago. We met at the funeral home this morning to finalize my dad’s arrangements. (On a side note, please discuss final arrangements with your parents and your spouse right now. Knowing inane things such as what music your loved one wants played during the service and how they want their remains handled will make a huge difference when you need to make those decisions. Discuss it. Now.) So here’s the thing: my dad hated spending money on stupid things. I won’t say he was cheap, but he valued a dollar and he HATED spending money on things that had no value. Such as a casket. And being embalmed. And two separate fees to carry his body from the funeral home to the cemetery.
As we sat there selecting caskets (the cheapest of which was $3000…plus tax), deciding whether we wanted a police escort ($300), choosing a guest book ($100, seriously?), picking memory cards ($75), and choosing which salon we wanted to use (included in the funeral price, can you believe it?), I swear I could hear my Dad dropping heavenly F-bombs as the funeral director shared the price of every traditional accoutrement. All of that crap would have had my Dad shaking his head and begging to be buried in a burlap sack in the back yard. I swear. But here’s the thing: funerals are for the living, not the dead. Each choice we made and each dollar spent was made out of a desire to somehow honor the amazing years we were blessed to spend with him. Each decision was made carefully and with love. As we made our choices, we laughed out loud to think about what Dad’s reaction would have been. I can actually picture the look on his face and see how his eyebrows would have raised upon hearing that his funeral cost over $8000. (On another side note, he must have known this, because he bought funeral insurance for himself. He may have shunned tradition, but he knew WE would need a funeral and he planned ahead to help us pay for it. That’s just the type of guy he was.)
Here’s what set me off: his wife chose a beautiful gray suit to bury him in. As we were sitting there (picking casket flowers to match his tie, if you can believe it), it occurred to me that his preference would have been to be buried in one of the many Hawaiian shirts he owned and loved, khaki shorts and flip flops. He loved color and loved being comfortable. I’m not even sure why he owned a suit, because I can’t remember the last time he wore one. (I think it was for his brother’s funeral, which is highly ironic.) When I jokingly shared that being buried in a Hawaiian shirt would be his choice, my sister, his wife and his sister-in-law each exclaimed: “YES! That’s exactly what he would want!” And it would be. Completely. Totally. The last thing my Dad was about was posing and pretending to be something that he wasn’t. In spite of that, the decision was made to bury him in his grey suit (which matched the casket, of course) because that’s what was expected. To put it lightly, my Dad would HATE that! I appreciate and understand the decision, but it’s so NOT what he would want that I kind of struggle with it.
So here’s what my family–my husband, daughter and son–decided: We are going to proudly wear Hawaiian shirts and khakis to Dad’s funeral. Screw the black dress. Screw the black suit. Screw tradition. We’re honoring my Dad by wearing what he enjoyed the most. Hawaiian shirts and khakis. I’m delivering the eulogy at Dad’s funeral. In a Hawaiian shirt. Sharing why I’m dressed the way I am will help me laugh instead of break down as I celebrate his life in a eulogy. I can’t wait. What do you think? Wrong decision or right?