In Conclusion: Create a Great Funeral Day

Oct 30, 2011 | 0 comments

30 Day Challenge 2011 Conclusion

I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. After 30 funerals in 30 days, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

No, my circle of family and friends has not been decimated. As The Doyenne of Death, I undertook the 30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge for three reasons:

  1. To illustrate the many creative ways people celebrate the lives of those they love.
  2. To help reduce a fear of talking about death – something that will happen to all of us.
  3. To show that funerals are a life cycle event much like a wedding, best planned more than a few days ahead of time.

I picked events to cover by reading the obituaries and selecting the most interesting ones that worked within my schedule. Between attending the event and writing up the stories for The Family Plot blog, this project took up three hours a day, every day, for an entire month. I am eager to get this significant chunk of time back.

The ages of the deceased ranged from 25 to 90. Some deaths were expected. Many were unexpected. Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, Jewish, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ were among the religious services, and there were plenty of non-religious events.

Early on, there was Howard Strunk’s memorial luncheon at a bowling alley bar. Josie the bartender put it together because Howard’s wife didn’t want to have a funeral for him. Memorial services are for community, not just the family.

Sam Baxter’s celebration at Balloon Fiesta Park took the cake for funeral of the month. He brought the Adams family of balloons to New Mexico in the 1980s. As his first two Adams balloons stood tethered, the several hundred assembled let fly a raft of multi-colored helium balloons. Then more than two-dozen hot air balloons took flight on a perfect day for flying, followed by a tailgate party of grand proportions.

Erika Langholf’s celebration of life was exactly that. The event at a funeral home chapel combined laughter and tears, with many stories told by family and friends. She was born in 1958, which is also the year of my birth. The music reflected the era we both came of age, including Queen, Rod Stewart, Journey, and, reflective of Erika’s killer sense of humor, “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum.

There were also the “facelift funerals.” These events follow the form of a funeral. However, they don’t touch the heart, they are just skin-deep. The only connection to the deceased was the reading of the obituary. These events featured “rent-a-ministers” who did not know the deceased – and admitted it!

Yet, even within the confines of an established ritual, funerals can be personalized. Lonnie Chavez’s funeral at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church followed the form for a funeral Mass. As soon as I walked into the church, I could tell he was a Dallas Cowboys fan – casket, blue star, pallbearers and deceased in football jerseys. What a way to ride off into the sunset.

Yes, I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. Three hours a day is a significant investment of time. And now that I am through with the 30-Day Challenge, I have so much more time, or so it seems.

How about you? Do you complain of too much to do and not enough time? How will the people in your life remember you? What legacy will you leave? In what dark valley are you walking?

Today is Create a Great Funeral Day. Don’t fear the Reaper – have a conversation with those you love about what you might want for your “good goodbye.” Your courage will help your family reduce stress at a time of grief, save money, and create a meaningful and memorable life cycle event.

You might also take your own 30-Day Challenge and find the time for the things in life that really matter. Take the time to be truly alive. Time is shorter than we all may think.

A Good Goodbye