Screw Tradition and the Horse It Rode in On

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?

By IndyHealer

Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Nutritionist with a burning passion for helping others achieve wellness using an integrative approach combining mainstream medicine with natural modalities. She has over 20 years of experience in natural medicine, has multiple certifications, and is currently completing a doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine. She is part of the practice of The Logan Institute for Health & Wellness in Fishers, Indiana. She is available for consultations in person or over the phone and can be reached at 317.598.4325.

8 replies on “Screw Tradition and the Horse It Rode in On”

I’m way late to this, but my condolences to you and your family.

And FWIW, I think the Hawiian shirt was/is brilliant. What better way to show how much you truly knew and loved your dad than by presenting it visually to all there to honor him.

I decided years ago, when my dad had bypass surgery, that when he dies I will wear camouflage  related to his funeral. He’s been an avid hunter my entire life and it’s the one thing that has brought him joy and happiness since long before I was born…and I think it would crack him up to know that for the first time in my life, no matter how old I am when he dies, I will be wearing the one thing I swore would never adorn my body!


I’m sorry for your loss. When my mom died we wanted her memorial service to be an example of the woman each of us remembered. My mom was a retired member of a local group of horse-riding women known as “The Wild Women of the West,” a group whose goal is to preserve the memories of the women who helped to shape the west into the land we know. When the other Wild Women arrived at the memorial service they were in full costume and hooting and hollering it up, just like at one of their parades. They proudly displayed my mom’s character banner across a horseshoe of yellow roses. (The group’s colors are yellow and black.) Even some non-Wild Women dressed up in costume, just because they knew how much it had meant to my mom, or they had been given a chance to ride with the Wild Women thanks to my mom.

For the rest of us the colors black, brown, grey, and navy were banned from the memorial service. My mom hated those colors; she always said they made her sad. I wore a hot pink dress that my mom helped me to pick out just a few weeks before her death. (She wasn’t planning to die, I didn’t mean to make that sound so morbid, but it’s the truth.) I wore that dress at least once a week for the rest of my pregnancy, just because it made me feel closer to my mom.

Enjoy wearing your Hawaiian shirts for your dad’s memory. Do it and smile while you think of him.

A family member of mine died several months ago and was shown in his casket in a suit, and I think he, too, would have preferred a Hawaiian shirt or a tee-shirt with a silly joke on it. His funeral was strange (it was the first I’d been to since I was too young to fully follow the politics of how they happen) because for me there was very little sense of HIM. But it wasn’t necessarily for him or even about him, but about his relationships, I guess. So there’s a lot involved emotionally in all these choices of funeral arrangements and ways of mourning.

I wish there was a mood button for “sympathetic and grateful, amused and sorry for your loss.”

First, I used to work in this profession. I did cemetery arrangements and pre-arranged funerals for terminally ill people for about half a year (and then, couldn’t take it any longer). So I want to reassure you: for every family that chose to do things “by the book/traditionally” there were four who said, “But Dad would have hated that! Margaritas and kilts all around!” Or whatever the things were that made them feel close to their loved one. It’s definitely a realm of work (and life) abundant in euphemism, but it seemed like the families who did things as honestly (both emotionally and in the sense of being true to the spirit of the person who’d died) were the ones, frankly, having the best time. Less in-fighting, more… love.

Which brings me to my second point: nothing honors who your dad was more than not only making choices that you think he’d have appreciated, but also doing so in a way that gives yourself space to both laugh and cry, grieve his loss and remember him with humor, wit, and grace. Which is what you’ve done here, and at your other blog. In the end, what’s so incredible about what you’ve written here (as well as your family’s plans for his memorial) is that it’s so clear that his practicality, his bucking of tradition, and his wonderful sense of humor all live on, in you.

Peace be with you. I’m sorry for your loss, and so grateful for your place here in this community.

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