My Coffin Commentary

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I’m not dead and I’m not dying.  I’m not even sick.  But I’m thinking about funerals anyway. 

Sometimes, when I’m in bed, I lie flat on my back with my right hand on top of the left, both resting on my stomach.  My wife tells me to stop it because I look like I’m dead and it freaks her out.  I don’t mean to make her feel that way.  I do it because it’s comfortable and soothing, like a meditation position.  Plus, I fall asleep quickly in that position and that’s a bonus.  

I’ve had a lot of experience with funerals, but I’ve only been to a handful that involved my close relatives.  My Grandparents, my Dad and, most recently, my Uncle.  There have also been some friends, relatives of people we know from the kid’s school or from work, and my partner Butch.  

The rest of my funerals were for strangers.  For people my friends and I buried.  I know what you’re thinking and NO, we didn’t kill them.  Someone, or most often something, else had taken care of that.  All we did was get the grave ready and, after the funeral, lower their casket into the hole. Then we filled it back in, raked out the dirt and put away the chairs and rest of the gear, after which we might take a break, have lunch or get on the mowers.    

Funerals are about a lot of things, I suppose.  They’re about paying our respects, honoring the dead, saying something awkward or being the 55thperson to say the same thing to the family of the deceased.  Often, they’re about obligation – you wouldn’t dare want to be the person who didn’t show up for Aunt Suzy’s funeral, because people are watching – and because they make you sign that damn book.  

I’m thinking about mine today, not someone else’s.  That’s not entirely accurate, because I’m really thinking about mine in comparison to someone else’s.  Not a specific person, but rather people who have died, in general. More like a comparison of the macrocosm of funerals I’ve experienced.  

Have I deserved to have anyone care?  

The Viewing is for Show

As they say, the viewing is for show, but the cemetery is for go, or maybe it’s more like ‘no-more-go.’ As in stationary.  That’s where I am now, in the cemetery.    

In the church, where the viewing took place, I was propped up, like I was laying on a lounge chair by the pool.  The casket was open, like a convertible, and I was, more-or-less, on display.  Nap-like, but for good.  

I’ve been driven to the cemetery in the back of the hearse, which is just a fancy station wagon / pick-up truck hybrid when you get right down to it.  It reminds me of the El Camino that Bobby Fritsch used to drive, with a luxury cap over the bed.  He owned the Exxon gas station where I worked as a teenager.  He’d whip that car / truck (or whatever it was) around the station and light the tires up doing doughnuts in the back, all while clenching a Marlboro cigarette between front teeth.  So cool, and off topic – my apologies.  The hearse is a rental, of course.  I only have it for the morning.  It’s all black and the windows are tinted.  I’ve seen hearse’s in silver as well, and even gold, in certain parts of the city.    

My pall bearers are all friends of the family that I recognize, although I’ve had no say in their selection for the job.  On the Funeral Director’s count of three, they lift my casket off the rack that slides it out the back of the hearse and carry it to the grave site before placing me here on the casket lowering device – I checked, that’s what it’s called – it is what it does.    The casket’s handles are finely polished chrome and I can see that they are reflecting the morning sun toward my guests.  They shield their eyes and it looks like they’re saluting me.  I’m humbled. Please, there’s no need for that. 

Soon I will be lowered into the ground.  Forever.  Although the casket is closed now that we’re in the park of eternal rest, and you can’t see me, I can see you.  I’m watching carefully.  I know, Creepy.  

My time’s running low and, before I know it, you’ll all turn your backs on me and walk away.  You’ll barely be out of sight before the pile of dirt hiding under the AstroTurf cover adjacent to the hole will be dumped upon me.  New seed will be sprinkled over the sod that’s been saved from when the grave was dug a day or two before.  Soon, some type of carved stone will be placed upon a concrete base that has my name on it along with the dates I was born and died.  Since I didn’t get around to it, there will probably be a short inscription on my stone, one likely wordsmith-ed by wife and girls, that might read “proud son, faithful husband, loving parent.” Could be worse. 

A minister blesses me and says a few words about who I was and how great of a person I was.  I don’t know him, because I stopped going to church when I got out of high school, and, of course, he doesn’t know me either.  Whatever he’s saying about me must have been written and provided by someone else.  Maybe my wife, or one of my sisters.  Or maybe he’s just using the same words he used at yesterday’s service for some other dead person, only this time with my name, instead of Harry, Mary or Sally, inserted in the appropriate spots. 

I can see that my closest family is sitting in the first row of folding chairs that look like ones I’ve seen at weddings, under a tent.  There’s my wife, my kids, their spouses and kids.  My sisters and their families are there, along with Mom, my Uncle Steve and his second wife, Shirley, and all the nephews and nieces that have a duty to attend these kinds of things. My friends are there as well, the people I grew up with who are still alive and the people I’ve met doing whatever it is I’ve done.

After that is when it gets dicey.  When I would have begun to sweat if I hadn’t been pumped full of embalming fluid.  I’ve thought about this repeatedly.  Let’s just say it’s been a concern.  Family and old friends are one thing, but beyond them, who did I matter to enough that they would spend their Saturday morning getting out of bed and dressed up for? 

And what about my, so to speak – extended family?  The people I’ve influenced, those who’ve worked for, or with, me.  The supporters and acquaintances, but maybe-not-quite-friends, whose lives have been a little better, fuller or richer, because of my impact on them.  Because they knew me, because I cared about them.  Because I was nice.   

Would they come?  Are there any?

It’s tough from my angle to see much beyond the front row.  They are here, right?  A big old crowd of them. Shedding a tear on my behalf or at least looking a little sad.  Thanking me for the memories and the opportunities.  Wishing I wasn’t gone. Missing me?  

Even if they are just here because they’re excited about the food, that’s OK with me. Did I just hear someone whisper, “he always had good food at the annual picnic?”  After all, it’s ridiculously bad form to skip the funeral and still show up for the food. I feel like my wife would notice that kind of bullsh*t and she’d make it real uncomfortable for them.  Everyone knows that sitting through the service is the price of admission for the after party.

As the minister finishes up, the funeral director passes out a flower to each attendee to place on top of my casket as they say a final prayer or few words to me. These flowers, the symbols of those last words, will remain with me in my new hole home forever, an eternal reminder of the positive impact I’ve had on so many other people’s lives. They’re so sad to see me go.

Or not. Maybe they’re glad. They might be worried about their jobs now that I’m gone, but they may also feel liberated, free from the box maybe they think I’ve put them in all these years, free from the boss. I can hear what they’re saying, and I imagine that the flowers they are leaving with me now will speak their words over and over and over – forever. The kind words will be like a comfy blanket, keeping me snug like a bug. The not-so-kind words like a Chinese water torture, drip, drip, drip, ‘til I just can’t take it anymore. But of course, I must, since I won’t be leaving this torture chamber anytime soon.

Who Gives a Rat’s Ass?

My friend, Rob, has a favorite saying about anything that he thinks matters very little, or doesn’t want to deal with. “Who gives a rat’s ass,” he’ll say.  Maybe I should share his sentiment.  By the way, is he here?  I mean, after all, I’m dead. Why should I care what people have to say about me? Who cares, and what difference does it make?

I don’t know why, but I care.  And I’m worried.  When people are freed of any adverse, negative social or financial impact from expressing what they really think, like for instance, when they’re talking to a dead guy about the dead guy, I’m thinking that they’ll tend to be truthful. Why not? After all, there are no longer any consequences to their unfiltered opinions, so I’m expecting that out they’ll come.

Have I earned the words and thoughts I’ve gotten? Are they the ones I wished I had with me for eternity?  That’s for me to know and you to find out.  Sorry to go all “little kid” on you.  

The fact is it’s too late for me.  I’ve run out of time to change anything.  I’m not all caught up in the legacy thing.  I’m too realistic to fall for that.  Once the time’s been enough, the stuff’s been distributed, and life has moved on, I know I’ll be largely forgotten like most of us dead folks are. That’s just the way it goes.  I’m just living (oops, sorry) for today.  And I do give a rat’s ass. 

What about you?  Will people care about you when you’re gone, at least enough to come to your funeral, to be there because they want to, not because they feel like they must?  Not just for the food and drinks?  

It’s not too late.  If you’re an adorable person that everyone loves, you’ve probably already nailed it. If a dead guy could be jealous, I would. On the other hand, if you’re prone to be a jerk, have moments (or longer) of significantly diminished self-awareness or you think that gratitude is a weakness or a waste of time, maybe you could consider a few tweaks.  Don’t leave it up to chance, like I did.  Change, for the better.  It doesn’t cost anything, but It can pay off, big time.  That’s my dead guy reflection.


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Mike Malatesta

Mike Malatesta

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