This is one of my favorite book titles. For those of you who are not familiar with it, this small cookbook by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays—which includes pointers for hosting the perfect Southern funeral—embraces the Southern tradition of lavishly celebrating all occasions, not the least of which is a tasteful funeral. Ironically, the book includes many artery-clogging recipes—but that is beside the point. The title has endless extension possibilities. One my father might have liked is Being Dead Is No Excuse for Not Planning One’s Own Funeral.
My father died on February 22, 2013, in Jackson, Mississippi, his home for 60 years (in one of life’s many small coincidences, he died six hours before Dr. Pat’s beloved mother did; he, too, would have turned 94 in May). The story of his death began 27 years ago, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Ever believing that he could control his life, he elected to have a prostatectomy because he thought it would cure him. That belief was compounded by a casual comment from his doctor at the time, who said that something else would kill him. Even though he enjoyed good health for at least 25 years after the surgery, my father was nonetheless piqued when the doctor’s comment turned out not to be true all these years later. The cancer metastasized to his bladder several years ago, and finally to his bones in November. He miraculously survived double pneumonia in January, but by then was so weak that he continued a steady decline until his death.
A well-read, educated, and traveled man whose nearly photographic recall of events made him a fascinating and prolific storyteller, my self-confident, gregarious father expressed only one fear that I remember. What he feared was the journey to death; he wasn’t afraid of the destination. The journey started in earnest several months ago; it wasn’t easy, but, blessedly, it went relatively quickly. He reached his destination with family by his side and with little suffering—a promise we made to him and, thanks to great medical and hospice teams, were able to keep.
When we went through his neatly entitled “Death” folder, it was no surprise to find his obituary as well as a personalized, pre-printed bulletin for the Requiem Eucharist he wanted, complete with chosen psalms and favorite hymns. All we had to do was add the date of death. He also included a mockup of his desired grave marker and a map of the Canton, Mississippi, cemetery with detailed instructions about where his urn should be placed in order to leave room for my mother.
He would have loved the visitation, the flowers, the music, the homily, the service (he was a proud descendant of Episcopal clergymen, after all), the luncheon afterwards (we used a caterer he particularly liked), and all the attention paid in the South to a life well lived. And why not? He was his own event planner.