I’ve had a many peculiar writing jobs. I’ve written corporate videos and technical manuals. I’ve written wedding toasts, wedding vows, and wedding ceremonies. I’ve written TV commercials for small and large markets (one for a Texas-based Ford dealership, the theme of which was Texan pride, and having never been there — Austin doesn’t really count, or so I’m told — I haven’t a lick of Texan pride, which you can probably tell from the way I just used the word “lick”). I’ve written ad copy and web content. I’ve written Powerpoint slides for an Orange County charity. I’ve even written jokes for a top-10 American-Idol-contestant-turned-standup.
Last week, though, I was asked to write for a venue for which I had never been asked before.
A funeral? you ask in disbelief.
Yes. A mother-grabbin’ funeral.
Now, this begs a lot of questions. Like, a lot of questions. Like, so many questions. But before I list and address some of these, let me just say that I felt honored and humbled to have been asked to write for what I imagine would be a meaningful and significant moment for so many. That someone would think I have the talent and character to put together words that could adequately address the emotional earthquake that is death softens even my rocky heart, and even now as I type this, I swell with gratitude. Okay, now that I’ve offered some semblance of respect for the dead and grieving, let’s talk about these questions.
First question: Why me? Well, like I mentioned, I’ve written wedding ceremonies, and actually, I’ve officiated the ceremonies, too. And you might be surprised to learn that I have a pretty solid batting average, much higher than the national average and it’ll stay as such as long as my cousin Brian doesn’t blow it. I keep the ceremonies light, short, and religion-free, so I suppose the jump from wedding ceremony to funeral isn’t exactly an Evel Knievel feat. And I have heard many people describe marriage as the end of life (Not me, Buster Brown! I love my wife), so maybe there’s more in common with matrimony and death from some people’s point of view.
Second question: No, seriously! Why me?! My wife will tell you I’m missing a sensitivity chip; though a therapist once contradicted her, arguing that it’s not that I’m insensitive but rather that I have a penis. Still, I’d probably agree with my wife. Case in point: I coached Little League this year (stories for another time) and at opening ceremonies, they wheeled the mayor of Lake Forest out to throw the first pitch. They literally wheeled him out because he was in a wheel chair, and I’m probably the only one who was hoping he’d tip over on the mound because, hell, it would make for a much better story than him lobbing a meatball across the plate. Again, probably not the kind of energy you want to bring into a room of the bereaved.
Third question: What the hell would I say? As a writer, it’s typically my job to say what others can’t or, in my case, what they won’t. Irreverence is really at the core of the authentic me. I’ve been hired many times to write ad campaigns for companies that want something edgy and irreverent, something with the potential to go viral. Asking for my drop-the-hammer irreverence is like asking Gary Busey to show you what he can do to three pounds of cocaine. You’re probably going to be sorry that you asked. Not that anyone asked me to perform an irreverent funeral (but talk about a great opportunity!). They asked me to perform a modest celebration-of-life-style funeral, and that seems like one of those moments that would bring out the authentic me. I’ve done a lot of soul-searching in my time, and I’ve found that I’m consistent when it comes to being in awkward situations. If I feel awkward — usually an unbearable round of small talk will do it — I will say or do something more awkward to put a period on the whole situation. That said, funerals are by nature awkward, so what I say or do would probably not be the most tender of things said or done. I’m just spitballin’ here, but I’d likely work this language somewhere into the service: “Well, this guy’s dead. Who’s next? No reason a funeral can’t be grounds for a little friendly competition. Take a look around, size up your neighbor, and let’s put together a pool. Winner take all ’cause the dead can’t take it with them.”
Fourth question: Do I absolutely have to be appropriate? This is a deal breaker. In fact, this is how I know I have a great marriage, a wife who really gets me. I no longer have to ask her whether or not I have to be on good behavior when we go to soccer games or children’s christenings or cocktail parties at the governor’s mansion. She accepts me for who I am and expects me to have fun the way I like to have fun. On this note, if you haven’t challenged a nun to a game of beer pong or an amputee to a game of leg wrestling, well, your soul is not as full as mine.
Fifth question: How inappropriate can I be? Would a top 10 list of “Things You Wished You Had Said to the Dearly Departed But Didn’t” be over the line? Because that would probably be my opener.
Sixth question: How do you end it? I mean, the main event’s already kinda happened.
Seventh question:Will I have to take pictures? If so, I’ll have to charge extra, a sort of deathly shipping and handling fee.
Eighth question:If I do have to take pictures, can the corpse be in them? And if so, can we pose his body in funny positions? *Side Note: If any producers are reading this and want to do a Weekend at Bernie’s reboot, I’m your man.
Ninth question: Will there be alcohol? If so, when? This is another deal breaker. There should be alcohol. There should be two hearses — one for the body, one for the kegs.
Tenth question: Is there a bonus in the event that my words resurrect the dead? If so, I’d probably spend the better part of my Sundays with my nose stuck in books bound in human flesh and emblazoned with pentagrams. I believe lawyers refer to this as researching legal precedents.
Eleventh question: Is there a bigger opportunity here? My wife works as a doula, ushering new souls into the world. Perhaps I can be the one to usher them out. We’ll be like Costco, taking care of folks from their diapers to their caskets.
Typically, so many questions in concert with that stomach-dropping feeling, which this proposition aroused, signal a writing opportunity that should not be passed over. And I wanted to take it, if for no other reason than to pad my resume. Unfortunately, the stars did not align, and I was unable to take the job for practical reasons, which may or may not have involved some of the the demands I was making in the contract. It was a sad moment, a missed opportunity to be sure. I am, however, an optimist. There will be other occasions such as this one. More people will croak. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe and share on Facebook, Twitter, email, all that stuff. First person to share on Facebook gets a eulogy excerpt — just a taste — posted to their page. Memento mori, mother grabbers!