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.