Talking Heads – Heaven

Yesterday I went to a funeral for my former boss at my previous job. He had been really ill from cancer and honestly, if he wasn’t going to beat it (which he wasn’t) then I’m glad he wasn’t suffering any longer. But. He was only one year older than me and he leaves his wife to raise their 13-year-old son alone. His older brother had died some years earlier so there were his parents, outliving both of their children. It was all very sad and it sure made you think about how unfair and random life can be.

He was not religious, pretty agnostic I’d say, so it seemed a bit odd to have the service led by the hospice chaplain. To hear him tell it, after just two visits, my old boss had become a believer.

Maybe I’m just too cynical. Maybe everything the chaplain said was true, or if not true, perhaps it was at least comforting to people who would feel better about the situation if they thought he had come to peace with god before he died.

Not being inclined that way myself, I found my thoughts drifting while the chaplain rambled on about what awaits us in the hereafter. I can appreciate that it would be a difficult day and probably your loved ones are not in a condition to be playing the role that the chaplain did, but this is why I have my funeral playlist. There were a number of songs played at my old boss’s service yesterday. Some unconventional choices which, while not what I was expecting having listened to his music booming out from his office for the better part of five years, were at least a nod to the man everyone knew.

So I returned to the thoughts about what is a service for? My mother pointed out that a funeral, in her book an actual sacrament and religious rite, is more about sending that person off with all the appropriate prayers and solemnity one expects. A memorial service could be more of an occasion for friends and family to remember the person and celebrate their life, tell funny or heartfelt stories. More about the person, less about the death and dying.

I kept thinking, when this is over, and we are safely out of earshot in our car, I am telling my husband, do not let any service for me be like this. Do not, under any circumstances, let some priest who never (or barely) met me, stand up and tell everyone what his ideas are about what I was thinking at the end, or how I was feeling. What comes next. You take my now-renamed memorial service playlist and you hit play.

This song is on there. If it gives people comfort to think about me up in heaven (which I don’t believe in) then let it at least be a bar where the band plays my favorite song, plays it all night long.


  1. I’m so sorry about your former boss, and your loss. Life can, indeed, be very unfair. I hope the universe starts to even out the luck it sends your way, and the way of your boss’s family.

    I was raised in the memorial service tradition, rather than funerals. The first time I went to a funeral, I was really turned off — it was like the congregation was worshiping the empty body, rather than celebrating the vibrant life of the person. A memorial service is for the congregation, not just the deceased — it’s a chance to come together and share precious memories…and mix tapes. Definitely what I want when I pass on…

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    1. Unfortunately I have mostly been to funerals, coming from a large Catholic family, but these were my older church-going relatives so it was expected. It was particularly jarring in this case. His mother did a valiant job with an account of his life but it was otherwise just this chaplain.


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