Robert Hitt Neill column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Celebrate your own funeral live with pre-funeralization

My favorite Aun-tee called Sunday afternoon to update her Annual Final Arrangement Plans.

She had a new song that she wanted me and Betsy to sing at her funeral, “And it’ll go so well with the one that Cuddin Polly Sue is going to do now. She’s singing a new one that I like a lot, with the theme of Heaven being all aglow, and this one I want y’all to do now will fit perfectly.”

“I thought we were going to sing ‘Jesus Will Outshine Them All’ for you?”

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“That was last year. I’m revising my plans, to go with this new theme. Cuddin Dexter will also be doing a different song, and his daughter is taking violin lessons in college now, so she’s going to play ‘Ave Maria’ while all the family comes in. It’s going to be a beautiful service!”

“Do you have a date set for this beautiful service?” I joked. “I’m going to be doing a lot of traveling, what with my new book coming out next month, and our new CD coming out last month. If I could put your funeral’s date on my calendar ahead of time, it’d sure help me plan around it.”

Aun-tee (not the one you’re thinking about: if you don’t know the difference between an Aunt and an Aun-tee, ask a Southerner) laughed, “Of course not! You know we’ve got the genes to make it to a hundred, so this might be 25 years away. What new CD? I haven’t heard it. Bring me one.”

“I’ll do that, because there’s a song on it that would work just right with your new funeral theme, called ‘Lights of the City.’ I bet you’ll want to revise your plans again after hearing it.”

“Oh, I can’t wait to hear it, then,” Aun-tee enthused. “This is going to be such a beautiful service.  Wish I was going to be able to hear the whole thing.”

I have a book by the great outdoor humorist Ed Zern, which includes a chapter entitled something like, “The Pre-Funeralization of Charlie Gunn.” I recalled that tome, and the thought struck me: why shouldn’t Aun-tee get to enjoy these beautiful funeral services that she revises annually? I told her about Zern’s Pre-Funeralization concept.

“What a great idea!” she immediately grasped the potential. “I could hold one each year, and then revise it for the next year. Everyone could get to enjoy the good time, and we could have an old-fashioned dinner on the grounds afterward, with fried chicken and all the trimmings. Cuddin Rosie May could whip up one of those delicious burnt-sugar cakes for dessert, and May-May would be glad to bring a big pan of her banana pudding.”

A thought struck her: “Do you think folks will get tired of coming to my funeral every year? Most folks only have one funeral, you know.”

I considered that judiciously before replying, “No, Ma’am, I don’t think they’d get tired of it. Matter of fact…”  The thought struck both of us at the same time: “We might could commercialize this concept!”

I personally favor cremation, though have not set a date for that myownself, and that method of Final Arrangements doesn’t lend itself so much to traditional Southern funerals, so the idea of Pre-Funeralization fits well with my own plans.  Aun-tee wasn’t so inclined: “I don’t want ANY fires around when I kick the bucket!” she declared firmly.  “But I know I’m going to Heaven when that time comes, because I believe in Jesus, so I don’t want folks to be really sad when I pass away. I want them to celebrate, and it’d sure be nice to get in on the celebration myself, if that’s possible with this Pre-Funeralization concept.”

Aun-tee and I are working on it, okay? First thing is, I’ve got to see if Mr. Zern, whom I understand has already been Funeralized hisownself, has a copyright on this process.  I’m like Aun-tee: as the song says, Jesus is going to take me to Heaven when I die, so I’m hoping folks will celebrate then, and I’d sure hate to miss the party, when that time comes! I’m working on my own Pre-Funeralization.