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My Big, Fat, Ghetto After-Funeral Memorial Party
I've been working on my funeral obsession. I really have. The truth is, I'm pretty funeral'd out, what with my dad's in December and my father-in-law's just last weekend.
Before I completely let it die a natural death (groan), I can't help but post one final hub on the subject. Kinda like my own little funeral for the topic of funerals.
Compare and Contrast/A Death Essay
Because my dad's death preceded my father-in-law's by only 3 months (and 2 days, but who's counting?), it's natural to associate the two. And equally natural (if one were so inclined) to compare various aspects of their passing, the families' reactions before, during, and post-passing, and, of course, the services honoring both men's lives.
I will spare you the details of the final days/hours of these dear men. I've written about them in other hubs. Today's topic is (once again) funerals. Specifically, some observations on what works and what doesn't. After all, what's the point of having these experiences and writing about them if future funeral planners don't benefit?
All-Purpose Planner Works for Funerals!
Division of Labor
Best case scenario when a parent dies: all of the remaining adults in the family work in tandem. They (hopefully) intuitively know each other's strengths and divide the work accordingly. In my dad's case, the three adult children had already had a "rehearsal" with my mom's death three years ago. When it came time to organize Dad's memorial service, we knew the drill. And we got 'er done.
My husband's family also had a precedent to follow. His sister died in 2000 at the age of 47. I was not part of the family then. However, from what I hear, Hubby took charge and handled the logistics of cremation, etc. It sounds to me like many of the family simply fell apart. Understandable enough -- it was a shock and a tragedy.
But my father-in-law's death was not a surprise. He was 87 and in hospice. We saw it coming. When he stopped taking any solid food we knew it was just a matter of weeks.
For reasons known only to her, my sister-in-law chose to leave the country for 12 days with her new boyfriend. She said she had a special ticket and could return home on 24-hours' notice. Yet, when we called her on Sunday to say her mom needed her here, she claimed she could not get a flight. She kept to her original plan of returning Thursday evening.
My father-in-law expired at 3:00 am Thursday morning, approximately 18 hours before she got home.
Tears can wait, sweetheart
By the time they landed, the body was long gone. The hospital bed was gone. The hospice workers were gone. We'd already made the basic arrangements for cremation and were well into planning the memorial service.
The problem was, my sister-in-law arrived in full-on grief mode, more than likely fueled by guilt. This did not match our "still running on adrenaline" mode. There'd be plenty of time later to sit, reflect, and cry. But right now, we had a funeral to plan, dammit!
Sensing that grieving and productivity are mutually exclusive states of being, we made an executive decision. We pulled the entire planning function in-house. This made my Hubby the supreme commander of his dad's send-off.
Don't drag it out
Some religions have strict guidelines on burying the dead within a certain number of days. I've come to believe it's to the family's advantage to do some kind of closure ceremony -- be it funeral, inurement, or memorial service -- quickly. One week or less is good. Two weeks is (IMHO) too long.
There's a saying that work has a tendency to expand to fill the time allotted to it. A prime example of this is the DVD slideshow my Hubby made of his Dad's life. Notwithstanding the fact that he'd started collecting and organizing old photos about 2 weeks prior, the presentation managed to take on epic proportions. He worked on it night and day up until the day he sent it off to the video lady for editing and synching with the music. Even so, we didn't get the finished product back until noon the day of the service. That's cutting it a little close!
Aside from spending so much time on the video, Hubby had quite a few other tasks to complete. Now that I think about it, he was doing the job of three people (e.g. my brother, my sister and me), not just one. Maybe all that coordination was necessary, but maybe he was a bit anal-retentive and hyper. All I know is, he did make a lovely service. We came very close to getting divorced during those two weeks, but the memorial service went off without a hitch!
So what about that after party?
On top of the church service details, we could quite easily have taken on planning the reception. But we chose not to. Sister-in-law needed a part, and planning a party seemed like just the thing.
We volunteered the use of our home, but Hubby made it clear she had a "blank canvas" with which to work. This was Hubby's term, blank canvas. I was concerned it was too vague and might be misinterpreted to mean only tablecloth and napkin colors. So I insisted he tell her, in no uncertain terms, that her responsibilities included all food, beverages, ice and serving utensils required to host potentially 100+ people.
Don't be sad... Party!
Wait -- they're not even Irish!
Hubby's family is Lutheran. If you know anything about Lutherans, they are relatively tame in the party department. Casseroles, cake and coffee -- especially the latter for members of the older generation.
In addition, the service was set for 2pm on a Sunday afternoon. Prime drinking time for the hardcore, perhaps. But not for people having to navigate the freeway home in end-of-weekend traffic.
I knew we'd be serving alcohol. I just didn't expect my home to be turned into a saloon. Sis-in-law and the boyfriend shopped Costco and brought the bar contents over on Saturday. Here's what they delivered:
One large bottle of Coke.
One large bottle of Diet Coke.
One large bottle of Sprite.
A case of sparkling water.
Five cases of white wine.
Plus another sixpack carrier of 1.5 liter bottles of wine.
A gallon jug of vodka.
A gallon jug of Scotch.
They lined all the wine bottles up on the bar table like an army marching into battle.
Well, I thought. We may not have any food, but at least we can feel like good hosts, knowing each guest has their own bottle of wine!
Some Gin & Juice Perhaps?
All's well in the 'hood
Of course the food did arrive (my ex-brother-in-law owns a deli and is very generous). And it was beautifully presented and delicious. The fact that "someone" had forgotten plates, napkins and silverware only momentarily stopped the festivities. The ex-brother-in-law was "blamed" and duly dispatched to the store to buy these items. Whatever.
But the high point of the party (at least for me) was not the food, or even the wine. It was actually the BEER.
Trying to minimize potential glass breakage on the patio, we'd decided against bottled beer. Hubby had specifically requested Heineken and (I believe) told "them" where they could get a small keg. We had the ice bucket all set for it and everything.
Imagine my surprise to walk outside and see, instead of a pony keg of Heineken, a dozen 40-ounce bottles of MGD and Bud Light on my table! In my wildest dreams I would never, ever have thought to serve 40s to guests at a party (not even when I was drinking underage).
I didn't know whether to laugh, cry, or hand out brown paper bags!
I now pray that my mother-in-law doesn't leave us anytime soon. I don't think I'll be ready to handle another memorial service like this one for a long, long time.
Feel free to drink to that. I'll fetch you a straw -- and a bottle!