Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When I R.I.P.

Death and taxes. Those things are certain. Those things and the eternal shelf-life of Spam and Twinkies. By the way, eating those things alone, or perish the thought, together, will probably cost you. Not in taxes, but in life expectancy. 

Three words of advice (sourced from your standard fireworks warning label): Do. Not. Eat. Ditto for antifreeze. Ditto for that breakfast waffle taco thing-y.  

I promise nobody will serve Twinkies or Spam at my wake. Or breakfast waffle taco thing-ys. Wait. I can’t make any promises, because, well, I’ll be dead, and what the rest of you choose to eat or not eat won’t be my biggest concern. Remember, you’ll still have the freedom to stuff your faces with processed delights to your heart’s dismay. 

I’m not writing you about Twinkies or Spam or Twinkies and Spam or Twinkies/Spam though. I’m writing you about funerals. Specifically, my own. You see, all writers must write about death, directly or indirectly. I’m sixty-three percent sure it’s a rule. I’ve done both, and for the moment, I’m going to just go ahead and hit the nail on the coffin. 

Yes, I still need to fill out an advance directive, but I’m hoping these words will serve as added documentation, in case there are questions or disagreements about my wishes, or maybe they will just help you get through the loss of me in some small way. Not that I’m that narcissistic. The loss of me is no greater than the loss of _____________. I am as extraordinary as any other human being lucky enough to have people care about her. 

If I am also lucky enough to live many more decades, please remind me to peruse this letter again. Opinions have a way of shifting with age, so I might not feel the same at ninety-five and a half as I do today at forty-one. Blessed is the art of revising. 


On the subject of amen, please do say a few prayers at my funeral. Have somebody of religious authority speak a little. I’m fine with reading a few verses from the good book, but to be honest, I’ll have to get back to you on which ones, or if you know me well, maybe you could try to pick out something that speaks to my essence. I do consider myself a spiritual person, I do think there’s power and virtue in faith, but I have never been a huge fan of organized religion. There just seems to be too much judgment in it. 

Regarding reading in general, I’m a fan of it, so read something you love at my funeral. If several people are game for this, be patient. Make the time. You must also read something I love on the subject of death and dying, and that something is, “Tract,” the last essay in the book The Undertaking by Thomas Lynch. If you haven’t read it, I recommend doing so. Here’s a sampling of why:  

“Whatever’s there to feel, feel it—the riddance, the relief, the fright and freedom, the fear of forgetting, the dull ache of your own mortality. Go home in pairs. Warm to the flesh that warms you still. Get with someone you trust with tears, with anger, and wonderment and utter silence. Get that part done—the sooner the better. The only way around these things is through them.” 

Be advised: There are some of Lynch’s words that might seem brutal to you. Maybe brutal isn’t the right word. Raw might be better. Yes, raw. If they make you squeamish, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to read them anyway. All of Lynch’s words from “Tract.” Keep in mind, that’s what Amie Heasley wanted, and although Amie Heasley won’t be available to argue, it would be swell if you didn’t like piss her off, okay?

Wait. I think that’s nostalgia wafting in from the kitchen. I hear music. Old school Ben Folds Five on the iPod. Reminds me of my early twenties. Hashtag carefree. Hashtag bliss.  

Music is another important part of funerals. First and foremost, you have my permission to skip the traditional hymnals. I want something played that actually made me feel, something that made the hairs along my arms stand in ovation. You also have my permission to TURN IT UP. Here are some quick ideas: “Windows Are Rolled Down” by Amos Lee, “Old Before Your Time” by Ray LaMontagne, “Jesus, Etc.” by Wilco, “Murder in The City” by the Avett Brothers. And something loud, like say, from Songs for the Deaf. (Yeah, I’m serious. I like to rawk, too.) I think the band Arcade Fire is pretty fantastic, but I haven’t a clue if any of their songs would work for a funeral. Then again, does it matter if songs “work” for a funeral? If you’re looking for a more obvious song about death, I think Brett Dennen’s “When I Go” would suffice.* 

I could go on, but I’m placing my trust in you. As long as you don’t play mainstream country, I probably won’t haunt you forevermore. Yes, Garth Brooks is mainstream. Three words of advice (sourced from Amie Heasley’s standard warning label): Do. Not. Play. Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson are more than acceptable though. If he’s still alive, please ask my husband for some suggestions. Ditto for my brother, who is an absolute whiz in musicology. 

What else happens at funerals? Oh that’s right. People at funerals say nice things about the deceased. Please say nice things about me, but don’t go overboard. I am not and will likely never be a saint. Think: She’s a regular gal who tried her best to do right. Sometimes, she succeeded, and sometimes, she failed. Okay, she failed a lot, but sometimes, she made people laugh. Okay, she made herself laugh. 

Laughter is the best medicine, so be sure and do some of that at my funeral. I swear I won’t think it’s disrespectful. Really. Don’t just cry for me. Or Argentina for that matter. Laugh with each other. This is also your chance to go right ahead and guffaw at me, not with me. 

Guffaw yourselves all the way to the pub. That’s where I want my wake. Bell’s Brewery, if it’s still around, would be a great place to gather. Don’t fret about things getting a little awkward. There will be no body to view or worry about. (That's no body, not nobody.) Take a decent photo of me along for the ride if it makes you feel better. Don’t forget to order me a Two Hearted. Somebody make a good toast about something I said or did or stood for or cried over or mocked lovingly. Somebody else make a good toast about love and life and still being alive and able to love.    

At some point after the official business of my death is done, gather again. If I haven’t already made some sort of home there, drive my ashes up north. Scatter me at Old Mission Point. If you can bear it, pour a little of me in the water, bury a little of me in the sand and sprinkle a little of me in the woods. Then go for a drive. Yes, more driving. Drive to the village of Empire. Yes, on the other peninsula. Watch the sunset with the locals. After you’ve witnessed the dying sun dip into Lake Michigan, head to Sutton’s Bay to Boone’s Prime Time Pub. I pray that place still stands for you. Sit at the bar and order a cheeseburger. Believe me when I say you won’t regret it. 

Amie & Al Heasley, Old Mission Point
One final note: try not to regret too much, okay? Give of your hearts willingly. Be kind when it practically kills you. Put yourselves way the hell out there in this amazing world of ours, especially if it embarrasses or terrifies you. Divulge what you want in life and in death. 

Now is your chance. Go. For. It. 

*I just realized Brett is a ginger and that this particular song rambles over six minutes. My condolences for the song length, not for the color of Brett’s hair. Because gingers are people, too, and they happen to be awesome.