My Last Farewell

I don’t want a funeral. At least not a traditional one.

I just went to a funeral. It was a beautiful service. Your typical religious affair. A crowd gathered in a chapel to bid farewell to a good man. They cried. They sniffed. They read eulogies. Men wore neckties.

The pastor preached a sermon. He kept saying that the deceased was “finally free.”

This phrase gets under my skin a little. Everyone says it at funerals. There’s no originality to it. I’m not sure I even know what they’re talking about.

I mean, if the dead are so happy-go-lucky and free, then how come everyone is so afraid of dying?

I left the chapel and drove to a beach on the shores of the Choctawhatchee Bay. I loosened my necktie and shoved it into my pocket. Because I hate neckties. Always have.

I don’t want a funeral. At least not a traditional one.

The last thing I want is a bunch of people in neckties taking turns giving speeches about how I’m “finally free.”

I don’t want a church, organ music, caskets, or any of that pallbearer business.

I’m not saying I don’t like church services. I do. I like hugging necks and singing “Rock of Ages” as much as the next guy. But when it comes to my funeral, I don’t want that.

I want to be outside. And I want my friends to have a big time. I want barbecued ribs and overstocked coolers. I want my wife to announce Willie Nelson as he takes the stage.

If not Willie himself, I’ll settle for the impersonator I saw in Branson. He was pretty good. Except that he was bald, from Norway, and when he talked he sounded like the Swedish Chef from the “Muppet Show.”

I want music. A bonfire. And food. It will be a covered dish supper. There will be potato salad, butter beans, and more casseroles than you can shake an urn at.

I will be cremated because my father was cremated. A handful of my ashes will be spread atop his mountain grave. The rest will be spread into the Choctawhatchee Bay of my youth.

Because this water is perfect. This is the place where I learned to be a man. Where I met the woman who would become my best friend. It was here where I figured out that being a loser who tries is better than winning.

I want my friends to play baseball. Right here on the shore. It will be barefoot baseball. National League rules. I want my wife to be the pitcher because that would be hilarious. I don’t care about anything else, just as long as someone pulls a hamstring sliding into second.

The bald guy from Norway can be umpire.

I want my friends to remember my happiest moments. Like the time I saw Willie Nelson in concert. The real Willie, not the bald Norwegian.

Or the time my wife and I went on a cruise and she got seasick. She took enough seasickness medication to tranquilize a Holstein and slept for thirty-six hours. So I wandered the boat alone, visiting various buffets, karaoke bars, and eating free lobster. I gained nine pounds in six days.

Also, I want my wife to know that she was the woman who taught me to smile when I didn’t feel like it. She makes our house feel like it has a heartbeat.

She once took me to the beach for a picnic when I lost my job, just to cheer me up. And she took me to that same beach to celebrate my first book getting published.

Oh, God. I’m going to be so sorry when it’s all over. I really will. Because it was so great. So very, very great.

I had sad beginnings. My family fell upon hard times during my childhood. There were uneasy years, and awkward ones. Bad bosses, and arguments with people who wanted me to be someone I wasn’t.

But there were also loyal friends. Not many, but enough to count. And good dogs who loved me harder than any human ever could.

And music. And pimento cheese. And homegrown tomatoes. And the Atlanta Braves. And bacon. And the sound a baby makes when it sleeps against your shoulder.

And it was perfect. Every second of it. I wish I could tell you with certainty what will happen to my soul after I die, but I prefer not knowing. It makes it more fun.

Maybe it will be like having dreams about flying. Or maybe it will be like the time my father took me on a roller coaster. He held my hand when the track went upside down. We screamed so hard we lost our voices.

Perhaps it will be like the moment before my wedding, when my mother hugged me and said, “You’ll always be my baby.”

It will be everything at once. The good and bad. The times I cried and didn’t think anyone saw me. The times I found myself caught up in a sunset.

The times I held my wife beneath one arm and my dog beneath the other. The times I wrote those silly eight-hundred word stories on the Internet, just for the hell of it.

There will be no more sad days. No more back pain. No more mid-afternoon caffeine crashes. No more people who drive too fast in the slow lane. No more losing. No more being scared. No more pain. No more disappointments. No more crying.

No more neckties.

Whatever you do, don’t cry for me. For I will finally be free.

53 comments

  1. Cathi Russell - August 31, 2019 6:51 am

    That’s definitely the plan. And I feel the same way…friends telling the REAL stories, eating a spread of Southern favorites and laughing about all the fun times we had together.

    Reply
  2. Dee from Tennessee - August 31, 2019 7:23 am

    Because Jesus of Nazareth is my Savior , my Shepherd … I will be in the presence of my Lord. God in sandals who loved me , just an ancient and weary schoolteacher , The rest will be icing on the cake . ( Think carmel icing on a yellow cake .)

    Another homerun from you !

    Reply
  3. ann broadway - August 31, 2019 7:25 am

    Hey Sean, Looking forward to hearing you and meeting you in Thomasville, Ga on Thursday. Hope you bring your sweet wife and dogs. Thomasville is dog friendly and even wife friendly. I hope you will also hugs some necks while you are here. We are big neck huggers here. See you soon. Ann Broadway

    Reply
  4. Lucretia Jones - August 31, 2019 7:28 am

    Thank you, Sean, kindred spirit!

    Reply
  5. Jean - August 31, 2019 9:52 am

    Amen! I feel the same way!

    Reply
  6. Judy - August 31, 2019 10:17 am

    Ashes tossed in the New River and a celebration with food and drink. A small marker that reads, relocating. AMEM

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  7. Judy - August 31, 2019 10:25 am

    And no autocorrect AMEN

    Reply
  8. Faye Elizabeth Gardner - August 31, 2019 10:42 am

    I also do not want a funeral. They are generally too sad even when its called a celebration of life. I have never been to one where they really did that, celebrate the life of the one who has gone on. Have a party for me and laugh at the good moments we may have shared.

    Reply
  9. Camille - August 31, 2019 10:50 am

    My sentiments, exactly, except I’m donating my body to science, University of Tennessee body farm. I toured the “inside” facility where the bones are kept in pull out drawers. My family can come anytime and have a “talk with mom” session. I’ve led an interesting life and hopefully medical science can discover something useful from my old bones.

    Reply
  10. Janette Mccollum - August 31, 2019 11:23 am

    What a great celebration of life and I would love to be there!!!! ❤️

    Reply
  11. Janie F. - August 31, 2019 11:43 am

    “She makes our house feels like it has a heartbeat.” Of all the beautiful words you’ve written about your wife, this sentence is the sweetest. I can only hope my husband feels like this about me. Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out Sean!

    Reply
    • Steve - August 31, 2019 2:34 pm

      That sentence stood out to me as well. There’s a lot in that sentence. I stopped and read that sentence 3 or 4 times. And paused. Trying to let it fully sink in. I’m a bachelor. Partly because I didn’t believe this sentence could be true. I might be wrong. I’ve been wrong before.

      Reply
  12. Joe Patterson - August 31, 2019 11:58 am

    I am on your team and like you have enjoyed it all .I think we were lucky to have rough childhoods with strong moms and hard times .The hard times make you stronger and teach you to enjoy every day .So many of my childhood friends who were the kings and queens in high school crashed and burned but no one but my mom ,brother and sister believed in me and we all made it .Thanks again your funeral is like the one I want.

    Reply
  13. Catherine - August 31, 2019 12:01 pm

    You shouldn’t be afraid of dying …. I’ve finally come round to that. It’s eternal peace and happiness and all our dogs and loved ones will be there . But like our pastor said last Sunday … I’m not ready to go just yet. And not to get weird or anything but I’m sure I got a sneak peak once…..a dream so real I woke up crying and overwhelmed w peace and happiness….it was a big barn on a hill w a big shade tree. Blue sky. We walked there. My husband went to the barn to see our horses. I went to the shade tree. Don’t know why i was just led there. And there was my dog Franke. We sat under the tree, I held him close and it was like we just communicated so talking . It glowed. Then a lady was there w a black lab. I asked her where she was from and she said Canada. I thought that weird since we had just walked from Alabama. But i figured ok. Then it was time to go. I didn’t want to but Franke said he’d be fine and poof we were back in Alabama. I know without a doubt that was heaven.
    We will be cremated too. Our ashes will be mixed w Frankes and put into the gulf…off our favorite beach . No tears . All happiness and fond memories I hope. Because we will be in a far better place.

    Reply
  14. Phil S, Montgomery, AL - August 31, 2019 12:17 pm

    Fear not, Sean – your soul will be just fine. Ya know, you coulda’ been a preacher – a very good preacher; but, we like you just the way you are. My wife and I will also be cremated, and I want my last farewell to be a happy occasion, too. Lots of fun, food, fellowship, and old stories, most of which will be embellished to the ridiculous fringe. As for now, let’s just enjoy the ride on life’s roller coaster, right side up, or upside down. In the immortal words of Jackie Gleason, “How sweet it is!” Preach on, Brutha’!
    P.S. I hate neckties, too.

    Reply
  15. Neil Joiner - August 31, 2019 12:19 pm

    I’d suggest having a practice run now. Sounds like too much fun to wait.

    Reply
  16. Bobbie - August 31, 2019 12:34 pm

    Such beautiful words Sean. Ditto to what Janie said…your wife giving your home a heartbeat. That says it all about the love you have for her and your life and what an amazing one it’s been! Many of us start out in less than ideal circumstances, but God can bring us thru and out of them…give us a good life. That’s what He did for me. And for you. Bless your big heart Mr Dietrich, bless your heart❤️

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  17. GaryD - August 31, 2019 12:37 pm

    I don’t care what is done with my body when I die. My soul will have done departed to the Promised Land.

    Reply
  18. Karen - August 31, 2019 12:44 pm

    “….. being a loser who tries is better than winning.” This is one of the best lines you have ever written. I want the same thing when I meet my end, because I am hopeful that it will be a new beginning. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  19. Johnny - August 31, 2019 12:53 pm

    ” . . . . where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17

    Reply
  20. Barbara Pope - August 31, 2019 1:21 pm

    Your funeral arrangements just made me hungry, Sean. If you could finally be free around a holiday it would be perfect because nobody is going to feel like working the next day.

    Reply
  21. Allison Gilmore - August 31, 2019 1:24 pm

    Thanks, Sean. As usual, your post today made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me want to be a better person. Reading this transparently honest narrative makes me aspire to strive to be as authentic and real and honest as possible — with my friends, with my family, and with myself.

    Reply
  22. Jim Rose - August 31, 2019 1:28 pm

    You have a way of making me cry. Not easy to do that to a crusty old structural engineer.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  23. Pat Nichols - August 31, 2019 1:28 pm

    “She makes our house feel like it has a heartbeat…” one of the best descriptions of what it feels like to be married to the person who is THE ONE!

    Reply
  24. Linda Parker - August 31, 2019 1:28 pm

    I couldn’t agree more! I want lots of laughter at my homegoing party, there will be great music, there will be a huge bowl full of those miniature frozen Reese Cups, everyone can have a snowman from the ones I have collected over the years (living in Alabama that is the only way I can have snow….), lots of hugging and laughing is expected. My life has never been boring, lots of surprises, lots of love, have met soooo many great people, some for just a ‘season’ some for my whole life…it is all good. thank you for adding to the goodness! The comments I have read are great!! I love the ‘relocated’ on the stone. Be blessed!!!! Linda

    Reply
  25. paula jones - August 31, 2019 1:30 pm

    Amen, and AMEN!

    Reply
  26. Julie P. - August 31, 2019 2:27 pm

    Sean,
    You, and your words, are amazing. I often feel a little guilty about the happiness I experience when I read your stories, because I feel as though we are all benefitting from your pain. I continue to hope that the love you feel from your fans on a daily basis is helping to curb that pain, if even a little bit. God bless you and Jamie~you are loved.

    Reply
  27. Shelton A. - August 31, 2019 2:42 pm

    I want to be cremated too. A simple small service with music I pick out. And then for those who loved me and were my friends, I wanted them to throw a party and celebrate that I am out of their hair,

    Reply
  28. Becca - August 31, 2019 2:43 pm

    My husband and I decided to be cremated. He has gone first after 48 1/2 years of marriage but I will follow him when God calls me! My husband IS FINALLY FREE! He has COPD, Stage IV Colon cancer and was bipolar! When I see him again, we will both be free! Amen! 🙏🏻

    Reply
  29. Steve - August 31, 2019 2:57 pm

    This is so timely. 2 nights ago I had insomnia. I got up a 2 AM and without turning the lights on, I Googled “what does the Bible say about Heaven”. I’ve been thinking about death, not in a sad way, just in a more curious way. I’m a Stage 4 Cancer patient and 52 years old. I’m not afraid of dying. I know Heaven awaits. I want to go fishing in Heaven. I want to catch 10 pound bass with my Uncle Gary and my dog Jake. I’m serious about that. I also don’t really want a funeral. My family can do that. They can plan whatever they want. I won’t be there.

    Steve

    Reply
  30. Susan - August 31, 2019 3:30 pm

    At my funeral I want Jimmy Buffet music played loudly and a fantastic seafood buffet. I plan to record a farewell to be played as well.

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  31. Linda Moon - August 31, 2019 4:12 pm

    In a family I cherish, there are only four of twelve siblings who are still with us. I visited the oldest one yesterday, and we said words to one another BEFORE the inevitable occurs. The “I Love Yous” took on a majesty of their own. It is great here, for now, in spite of sad beginnings, back pain, crying, and the et ceteras that we all endure. For your non-traditional funeral I would suggest more musicians to choose from: Bob Dylan, Iris DeMent, Carter Burwell, and maybe some Leonard Cohen. Oh, and the theme to “Murder, She Wrote”! I’ll be at that funeral…..for YOU and the music!!

    Reply
  32. Shirley Barbaree - August 31, 2019 4:56 pm

    What a beautiful way to look at life and death! It seems everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die…at least, not yet. God bless you, Sean.

    Reply
  33. Tom Page - August 31, 2019 5:35 pm

    We lost a good friend yesterday. What a timely and appropriate piece this is for us. God bless you for putting some perspective into such a sad occasion.

    Reply
  34. Mary T. - August 31, 2019 6:06 pm

    We don’t fear dying. It’s the process of dying that we fear.

    Reply
  35. Robert Chiles - August 31, 2019 7:01 pm

    I’m going to have lots of fried chicken and a keg of beer. And my obituary will say “He liked trains”

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  36. Kim - August 31, 2019 7:02 pm

    Just trust and hope you KNOW that it is JESUS that gets you there !

    Reply
  37. Steve Scott - August 31, 2019 7:08 pm

    My final wishes (short version)

    Oh bury me not, in the cold, cold ground and look down on me in pity.
    Just load me up into a giant red cannon, and shoot me over into Phenix City!

    Reply
  38. Sharon Lawson - August 31, 2019 10:30 pm

    It’s a real struggle to hit the delete key on you columns especially one like this. I want to keep it and hold onto it for a while really read it again and again. Thank you.

    Reply
  39. Steve Winfield - August 31, 2019 10:48 pm

    I look forward to not having to work.

    Reply
  40. Lesa Osborn - September 1, 2019 12:28 am

    Replace Willie with Billy Joel, and you just planned my funeral. Peace be with you.

    Reply
  41. Dianne - September 1, 2019 1:20 am

    I don’t worry about being dead….just the act of dying. I do not want a funeral or gathering of any kind. If you didn’t some see me when I was alive, I sure don’t want you looking at me dead. And if you did come to see me when I was alive, that will be enough. Funerals have gone the way of weddings and are just too expensive. No need to spend all that money on a box you are putting in the ground and throwing dirt on. Cremate me and spend the funeral money on a cruise where you can throw me out into the ocean.

    Reply
  42. Terrie - September 1, 2019 1:29 am

    I’m a new subscriber. Don’t ever stop writing Sean! I’m addicted to the realness of your wonderful heart through your stories, and I just love your wife!
    Terrie

    Reply
  43. Kathy Hutchins - September 1, 2019 2:51 am

    Lost my brotther last year, I live between Houston/Galveston, He lived in Thibodaux,Louisiana, water out his back yard. He had a camp on Lake Salvador, between Thibbbodaux & New Orleans) where you could set out crab traps and catch with NO bait, they just went in more than enough for lunch, boiled them up, he & my husband(husband dead, too) took off to go to “titty beach” (understood you could see girls bathing on the weekends but not the weekdays, much to my husband’s chagrin. we ate, I picked crabmeat until I thought my fingers were going to drop..11 traps, no bait, couldn’t believe it, true! He had the most stunning sunset, his little camp had a long pier, they put a church pew out there to watch the sunset. He was lookin’ at a 62K camp & decided on the tiny one,because of the view, they could sit on that pew w/cocktails and watch the sunset. The 60/70K guys would come watch the sunset from Danny’s little camp because it was stunning.Hoop, the duck dawg would knock over beers & drinks on the front porch, he was about 9, loved himself some cocktails, beer ducks. SO MUCH, at my brother’s house, in Thibodaux, LA, Hoop (the dawg) would go “duck hunting” in ALL the neighbors ponds, who had those white ducks, and being a duck hunting dog, he would proudly return them to the house, my brother having an “AW SHIT, NOT AGAIN” moment, always replacing crying little people’s ducks. He was stiemied about what to do, he was trained to hunt ducks, but went to neighbors ponds and brought home AFLAC duck! I happened to be there Thibodaux+ visiting when a friend of Danny’s came over & said “I just saw Hoop’s picture on the wanted poster in the post office, you need to dye his hair black), Hoop is a yellow lab, but the guy said he was (the dog) wanted for murder.

    Danny died last year, he had so many friiends I cremated hiim & it took a while to get his pals all together, we had his ceremony in his very large back yard, his best friend, (Yyvette Dufrene, known as BeBe) gave the euilogy, people from Florida,, Alabama, Louisiana & Texas all attended.

    There were abut 80-90 people, we told them “Come as you are” (I thought it would be stupid for folks sitting outside on that beautiful property by the bayou in suits, or nice slacks, dresses & heels)..It was perfect, it was what Danny would have loved. I hope he & the rest of my family made and apprerance, Daddy, my past husband Thom, who died the previous year, & MeMe & Papa, Granny & Uncle Madison, Uncle Pete, Uncle Bob, Uncle Jack, all of them. I’m all that’s left of my immediate family, funny though, through facebook an old classmate found me who lived near Lafayette, knew Danny. We would talk for hours on the phone. He came to the funeral, had not seen him since highschool (45 years). We got married Apriil 4th, Gotta love God!!

    Reply
  44. Norma Jeane Williams - September 1, 2019 3:54 am

    Oh, dear Sean, this sounds so much like I feel about the funeral but you can know what comes after . If you have made Jesus the Lord of your life and Savior , you will go on in heaven or wherever we need to be for eternity. This life is too short not to plan for eternity. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. They speak to me in wonderful ways. I also grew up with out my dad who was killed in an accident. No funeral! Party!!!

    Reply
  45. Elizabeth - September 1, 2019 11:24 am

    Wow! All the comments have already said everything I’m feeling and thinking! Thanks Sean!

    Reply
  46. Donna Horn - September 1, 2019 1:30 pm

    That’s the way it should be when one leaves this earth – a true “celebration of your life”!! Beautiful!!

    Reply
  47. Phyllis - September 1, 2019 1:59 pm

    God gave you the great gift of penning how we all feel! I would love to someday meet you and give you a big hug! If not in this life, then then I’ll hug you in heaven.

    Reply
  48. Edna B. - September 1, 2019 4:52 pm

    I feel the same way. I’m opting for cremation and a gathering to celebrate the good memories. I loved how your described Jamie. You have a lovely way with words. Enjoy the day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  49. MermaidGrammy - September 1, 2019 11:40 pm

    We may not cry for you. We will certainly cry for ourselves. And you can’t stop us

    Reply
  50. Estelle S Davis - September 2, 2019 5:46 am

    I recently went to a funeral that was a true celebration of life (His Life). The preacher who held the service was his sister- in- law. He was a very happy person. He liked people. He liked teasing and playing jokes with people. There were 120 relatives at the do. They told stories of the things they remembered when they were with him. There was much laughter. Afterward we went to the country club gathering room where we had
    Bar-B-Q with all the fixings and banana pudding and peach cobbler for dessert. And the celebration continued. I think he would have been pleased. I don’t care what they do with my body after I’m gone. I won’t be there. If they want to cremate me that’s fine or if they want to bury me that’s fine. Just don’t spend a lot of money. Let family and friends enjoy being together. Let them eat their fill, tell jokes and hopefully remember me kindly. I’ve had a lot of physical pain in my life and I look forward to being free from that pain. I look forward to seeing my savior and the Father. I’m almost 78. I’ve had a good life. Ups and downs like most people But I’m ready when He is ready for me. I loved this column. You always remind me of the true riches in life. But, one of those rich blessings is “I WAS BORN IN THE SOUTH.” ❤️

    Reply
  51. Joyce Anne Bacon - September 3, 2019 11:37 am

    I feel the same way Sean. In fact I am so determined that my “arrangements” have been made and paid. Enough money has been left for my kids to host a big party – not a memorial.

    Reply
  52. Mary Guenther - September 3, 2019 4:41 pm

    My wishes for my own funeral! Kindred spirits!

    Reply

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