Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.
– Yogi Berra
already this year, my wife and her friends and family have had to deal with three deaths — an unusual and sobering number for us. traveling out of town to a funeral for the past few days has given rise to all kinds of questions.
- for whom would I take time off work, and spend time and money to travel to their funeral?
- … living 500 miles and a border crossing away from many friends and relatives, this is no small question.
- who wouldn’t make the cut?
- …why/why not?
- ……does that make me a bad person?
- who would make the same sacrifice to come to my funeral?
- ……would they still do it for me if they knew that I might not do the same?
- odds are high that I’ll be attending someone else’s funeral before I call everyone in for mine; who, of the people that I care for, will be the next to die?
- … ok, stop crying.
- which would be harder to deal with: the loss of a parent, sibling, or child?
- … how could you even ask that, you selfish bastard?
- …… and you forgot spouse; ugh, that’s even worse; possibly even more selfish.
- just stop.
this week the departed was my wife’s cousin. obviously, any funeral she goes to, I’ll be there for support. that’s not even a question. but my cousins and I have never been as close as she was with him — not a value judgment, just an observation — so what would be the expectations there? (both ways)? I’d like to say that I’d be there for any/all of them, but that doesn’t seem realistic either.
I actually started making lists in my head of people that I absolutely, positively, would not miss their funeral; the toughest call had to be spouses of those friends who were on the no-brainer list… as big, or almost as big, as the tribute to the recently departed is the act of giving support to those who survive them. but when the time comes, is that really something that’s realistic? it’s almost too vain to think that my attendance will bring any additional comfort to my friend at that point, who will surely have numerous family and friends to support them. my inner-economist rationalizes that if the marginal benefit of my attendance is less than the cost incurred to attend, I shouldn’t attend. or am I rationalizing in order to mask my own selfishness? (seriously, I had many, many hours to drive and contemplate these things over the past two days…)
are mortician’s allowed to form the deceased mouth into a smile? that’s what I’d like, if I have the benefit of an open casket — a little crooked-mouthed smirk, like I’m chuckling at an inside-joke. it would be difficult to perfect, as the wrong nuance would leave a very creepy impression — but I wonder if it’s even something that morticians are allowed to do. it seems to me that they might get many weird requests, and probably have to say no to many of them.
people have told me that I’d likely be ‘late for my own funeral’ — do you think this is something I could arrange ahead of time? could that go in a living will? “I would like my casket to arrive 15 minutes late, unshaven, and apologizing with excuses about beltway traffic…” just like old times. (better not; someone would be pissed.)
back to the grieving economist — there must be an optimum number of grievers. if only five people show up, obviously that doesn’t reflect well; but once you surpass a certain number extra people it just becomes a logistical problem. if you already have 500 mourners, another 100 doesn’t really bring that much more benefit to the family (I’m guessing). this ignores the benefit/impact that attendance has on the marginal mourner him/her-self, which could be quite significant and would be highly individual.
and my apologies to anyone who finds this post in bad taste — death is inevitable and we all deal with it in our own way. I can only take it as seriously as I take most things…