I will be 65 years old next month. And I have no intention of retiring, let alone dying, any time soon, these milestone birthdays and extra senior citizen discounts will help me ruminate on the past and how prepared I am for the future. It can inspire people to reflect on what they are doing.
You may have been watching coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on Monday, as commentators repeatedly reminded us that many aspects of this royal send-off have been planned for decades.
It seems that he has been receiving pamphlets from funeral homes since he was in his late 40s. “Are you ready? Does your loved one know your wishes?”
Yes, you have to make practical decisions. Should I donate my body to science? If “back to dust”, what cool place should I ask for to have my family gather and have fun while they scatter the ashes in the wind? ?
Finding poetry for funeral readings is also important. There, he argues, each dead person goes exactly where each has always imagined, from heavenly choirs to reincarnation as animals.
But the most important thing in The Final Countdown’s recent plans was a more important consideration. What music should be played at the memorial service for Mary Ellen Wright after I danced the last tango with Grim Reaper? How do I want my loved ones to be entertained after I am gone? What kind of musical message would you like to leave about who I was?
I’m not much of a “hymnal person” these days. My eulogy selection needs to be a little more unconventional.
I think it was about 40 years ago when I really started pondering all of this. In 1981, while working for a newspaper in Stroudsburg, I covered the funeral of a murdered jazz bar owner. The baritone sang the Duke Ellington standard “(In My) Solitude” soulfully, and it wasn’t dry eye in the house. She hoped one day to sing at her own funeral.
It’s still on the “possibility” list. It’s sad, but it also includes being “possessed” by an old love, so I’m wondering if the lyrics really contain what I want to say. But I like the idea of celebrating a lonely part of my life and reminding my loved ones that it’s “unforgettable.”If this song were to end up being cut, it would be my favorite It has to be performed by Ella Fitzgerald, one of the singer’s girlfriends.
One of my must-do songs for the memorial program is “God Loves Everyone” by Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith. The message of God’s love and acceptance of all, sinners and saints, believers and unbelievers, pretty much represents my personal theology.
I love songs with lines like, “Hell is in our hearts/Hell is in this life/But when it’s over, God will take everyone away.”
(A wonderful 2009 performance of this song by Lancaster County’s Jonathan Groff in a New York nightclub can be heard online at lanc.news/GroffGodLovesEveryone.)
Going to the theater is one of my great passions in life, so of course there should be Broadway show tunes in the mix. We don’t know yet, but ‘Move On’ from Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Sunday in the Park With George’ is a prime candidate. Its lyrics say a lot about creativity and life choices. And it leaves a message for family and friends to keep living and creating.
But I’m also obsessed with “The Sound of Music,” and my family’s favorite light-hearted “Goodbye, Goodbye” might kick Sondheim off the set list. It makes my family smile and sing “Cuckoo!”
I think a memorial service should have a chorus — especially if you don’t plan on including a hymn.
I’ve long thought that “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, sung in unison, could really bring the congregation together. No matter where you are in the Great Beyond — you might be talking to Judy Garland!
The alternative, which includes “The End of the Rainbow,” is another favorite of “Moon River,” which I’ve loved since the sheet music for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” sat on our family’s piano in the 1960s. Andy Williams’ sweet tone promises to meet again around Bend, Huckleberry’s friend.
My family likes to read the verse from Ecclesiastes, “Birth and Death,” at memorial services. So having people sing along to The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn” (Pete Seeger’s reconstruction of a Bible verse) might help keep everyone in a positive frame of mind. Hmm.
And how do you send family and friends out into the world after saying goodbye?
Here are some final encore ideas that might help you put away your handkerchiefs.
I went to college during the height of the disco era, and I was a disco duck. There’s no better song than Patrick Hernandez’s uptempo “Born to Be Alive.” I may have shuffled through the mortal coils, but nieces, nephews, friends – you were born to live and stay alive.
Another must-have is ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ by Cyndi Lauper. In her interview, the pop singer and composer said she wrote it with her mother in mind — her mother Roper, who she thought didn’t have enough options in her life.
I am so grateful to have grown up at home and in a time when I always knew I had many choices — choosing a career, choosing where to live, or not. Getting married—I want to celebrate it with Roper’s anthem during our final goodbyes.
Local musicians Bobby Carmitchell and Ashley McFolds sing the Indigo Girls song “Galileo” during one of their daily Facebook Live concerts during the early months of the pandemic. I realized how much I loved that song when I heard it. Its lyrics can lead the listener down many philosophical paths. “How long will it take for my soul to be right? Can any human reach such a light?”
That might be the perfect tone to end the memorial service. Amen and amen.
If anything close to the number of years Queen Elizabeth has been on this planet is granted, my memorial setlist could turn into something completely different in the future.
But whatever that music is, I hope it will be a comfort to those I left behind.
“Unscripted” is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.