Friday, September 9, 2011

Funerals By George

    I’d spent a considerable amount of time deciding whether to write this.  On first blush, it seems disrespectful.  I mean, how could telling a funny story about my stepfather’s funeral be anything BUT in poor taste?
    The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that our final respects to “Poppy” weren’t contrived or phony.  Rather, they were a sincere goodbye to one of the family and the way I’d wanna go when I gotta go.
"Seriously, Jim, all over the frikkin' house!"
    Ray, or “Poppy” (as he came to be known), came into our lives when we were children.  Our mother, having grown tired of living with a man who resembled Ralph Kramden, acted like Archie Bunker, and possessed the social skills of Fred Flintstone, secured a divorce and somehow managed to convince this relatively young man that living with five kids really wasn’t much worse than a prostate exam from Edward Scissorhands.
NOTE:  Yes, this is the same father I talk about in my “Once Upon a Time” series of stories.  He finally got the heave-ho from my mother after he put shag carpet on the house siding.
    So it went through thick, thin, and adolescence until,  after the untimely death of our mother, it was Ray to whom we turned as head of the family.
Like this. But worse.
    Even though he remarried a few years later (to the lady we call “Ursula the Sea Hag”-but that’s another story), he was still the glue which held us together.
    He took us to ballgames, gave us advice, provided an anchor through tough times, and was a father to five kids when he didn’t have to be.  He may have thought onion dip with chips was high cuisine and Howard Stern was Masterpiece Theater, but he was our model for manhood.
"I'm not sure about this. Anyone see the cat?"
    When he succumbed to cancer several years ago, we were overwhelmed with grief at the loss of someone who had guided us into adulthood and sadness that our own children wouldn’t get to know him as we had.
    As funeral preparations went into high gear, we didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on the person we had lost.  Concerned with the how and where, we began to lose our grip on the “who.”
    During the two-day viewing, my brothers, sister, and I took our proper places in the front row (the only place where being in the “front row” is not a good thing) and paid our respects to all who came their respects.
    For two hours, we sat quiet as mummies, while mourners shuffled by the open casket.  As they finished, they turned to us, murmuring “I’m sorry,” “He looks so natural,” (one of the stupidest sayings known to man), or some other such platitude before rushing home to watch “Jake and the Fat Man.”
    Needless to say, it was kinda rough.  Enduring the parade of mourners while solemnly staring at someone who looked nowhere near “natural” took its toll.
Just kidding! But, her name was Marilyn.
    The second night was a little different.  Although prepared to be good soldiers throughout the duration, our solemn façades began to break down after the arrival of one of my Phil’s old girlfriends.
    I’ve always admired her for showing up.  She didn’t come to see my brother; she came to say goodbye.  This, of course, didn’t stop the smirks from me and my other brothers and sister.  Nor disapproving looks and hushed “tsk tsks” from some of the other, more distant, relatives.
    Through it all, though, we maintained our composure.
    Until Gary’s old girlfriend showed up.  More smirks.  Then, when one of MY old girlfriends arrived (with a nose ring that looked downright painful!), smirks became giggles.
    Giggles became whispered jokes.  And whispered jokes became throwing our voices at the casket when elderly relatives showed up.
    As bad as our performances at the “home” were, they were nothing compared to the actual funeral.

To be continued......

Next:  Poppy Gets Planted.  Oh, my, was that necessary?


  1. Sometimes the best way to handle grief if with laughter. Well, maybe not the best but certainly a common way to handle things. There is something to be said for the power of healing laughter. Plus...sounds like you guys could only hold out so long with that motley crue (yes that is intentionally mis-spelled to reflect a kick ass band I love) coming to pay their respects.

  2. Thanks for leaving me hanging. I am now really looking forward to your next post!

    And you dated a girl who later got a nose ring?

    You're more bad ass than I thought. :D

  3. I made a joke [in reference to a dear friend who passed] to a shared friend we had. It was clearly something we used to all laugh at when M was still alive. In the group setting of a bbq, I stood out like a sore thumb, making comical banter @ a deceased guy- one of the funniest mofos I knew growing up- and everyone got mad at me. like 4 years had already passed.
    Some people just prefer to mope. I don't think the dead do. I know that all my passed-on loved ones are partying together... I KNOW this to be true.
    So screw anyone who thinks that death and dying are on the taboo haha list.
    I love a drop-dead funny joke...

  4. I remember when my dad died; my husband (the man I was married to at the time) was shocked that there was so much laughter at his wake. But my family including my dad loved a good time and even though we shed many tears, we also laughed plenty as we recalled the good times. Love this post...looking forward the the next one!

  5. First, Poppy sounds like he was an awesome stepdad. You and your siblings were pretty lucky to have a guy like that in your lives. :)

    Second, he must have been some kind of guy to bring out all the exes!! LOL! I mean, it's great he touched so many people, but wow. That's funny. I don't blame you guys for snickering at all, because it sounds like Poppy was probably watching from above having a good chuckle himself. ;)

    Sometimes laughter at funerals is the key. My grandmother's funeral included funny stories about her, which had even my devestated mother with a smile on her face...

  6. Laughter celebrates life. he sounds awesome.

    When I die-- i hope everyone talks about how really, really funny I am & laughs their heads off. I also hope they talk about how pretty i am too, although they probably won't.

  7. @Jewels: When my mom died, we had a few laughs. I felt very badly about it, but was told that it's sometimes a natural way to express remorse. And you're absolutely right-as the interminably long wake dragged on, we couldn't help ourselves.
    @Lemons: Yep, it really did look painful. All red and sore-looking. I also burned down 7 acres (by accident!!) when I was 13. My 18 year-old nephew is amazed that I did that. I told him to never mess with me. If he liked his car.
    @Violet: When I die (and I will-I'm not Mick Jagger) I want my family and both of my friends to have a good ole Irish Wake. I'll even pay (I'll have to post-date the check, of course).
    @Eva: There were some family members who really looked put out. As for me, I would LOVE to have a pressure-activated switch mounted in the kneeler in front of my casket. When someone kneels in front of me, I'd like them to hear "Hey, how you doin'? Don't I look great for a dead guy? Don't kiss me, though. My lips are frikkin' cold!" from a little speaker mounted just beneath my suit jacket.
    @Jennifer: My God when all the old girlfriends started showing up!!! And I KNOW he was laughing at us.
    @Mary: As I'm sure everyone suspects, I can sometimes exaggerate (NO!!) but not here-everything happened exactly as I describe. Poppy (that's really what we called him) WAS awesome.

  8. To answer your question on my recent post, the game was KC Royals VS NY Yankees. The photo was taken a few years ago. :)

  9. Looks like it was taken at Old Yankee Stadium. I used to go there a whole lot. I took in a game at the new joint last year (vs the Red Sox. The Yankees won). I loved it, but I don't think I'll be heading there anytime soon. They want $5.00 for a bottle of water. I don't think I want to help pay for Arod's salary that badly.

  10. Al, I like seeing a more sincere side to your writing - mixed, of course, with your cunning wit. I'm sorry for your loss. He sounds like a gem.

  11. I am sorry about your loss Al, but I get finding the humour in things, it's a much kinder way to deal with things!!!

  12. I have a habit of laughing at what is considered inappropriate times. Including my grandmother's internment.

  13. @Robyn: Thanks! I'm more than a pretty face. Well, that's not exactly true. Faces on iodine bottles look better than mine.
    @Average Girl: Not to go all metaphysical, but.....I'm convinced there's more to life than this (and not necessarily a Judeo-Christian thing. Although, I'm going to church tomorrow so I don't take any chances). Logic tells me that, when we die, it's impossible that all consciousness goes with us forever. So, why not have a laugh when we pass? We can all yuk it up in the afterlife. On the other hand, if that's it when we die, then we won't know if our family/friends were laughing, so who cares?
    @ComeAtMeBro: Thanks. Believe it or not, it's all completely true!
    @Ruth: I knew there was a reason we get along!

  14. Oyvay Al, that business of your mom tiring of Kramdenbunkerflintstone was the funniest schtick I've read in ages; those courses in humour you took are really paying off for you.
    But seriously, this was a fine tribute to an obvious good man, wish there was more like him around these days.