Funerals and Memorial Services

A_Franklin funeral program book coverI was asked whether I watched or had recorded to watch later, some or all of the broadcast of Aretha Franklin’s funeral (held Friday, August 31, 2018). Here’s my response to that question.

No; I did not watch it, nor had I any intention of watching coverage of Aretha Franklin’s funeral. However, I did see a few very short video clips of her funeral as it was part of the local news here in Michigan (many of the Saginaw, Michigan area newspapers, and TV news and radio news stations were present at that funeral to cover it) and the ABC television network’s national evening news. I’m sure that networks like BET for example, and several internet websites will have various video clips of Aretha Franklin’s funeral. That content is sure to be available online if someday I’m ready or am willing to see and hear it.

Now, I did not know Aretha Franklin on any personal or professional level. I was – and still am, simply a lifelong fan of her work. I respected the late Queen of Soul and her music career. Aretha was not just a fellow Black American; she was an outstanding and talented individual, and a strong, independent woman. Had the opportunity to meet her presented itself, I would have been quite honored! I loved and still love most of Aretha’s music – much of which I’ve listened to since my childhood. However, as I’ve said, I did not watch the televised coverage of her funeral. In fact, I chose not to watch it. You see, I hate funerals and memorial services and will try to avoid going to such organized ceremonies which honor the dead. And since I do not like going to funerals or to memorial services (and I’m sure many other people don’t like going to them either, yet they still choose to go out of some obligation), I’d be damned if I was ever going to watch such a ceremony – not even one held for Aretha Franklin – on television.
(From this point forward, the following may offend some readers.)

_Funerals, memorial services1As far as I’m concerned, funeral and memorial services are not for the deceased but instead are for much of the vanity, egotistical and/or religious feelings, and sensitivities of the people who are living. Many people who want to have a funeral or memorial service for some loved or admired and respected person, only want that ceremony so that they can attend said ceremony, be seen there, and perhaps – if so allowed, to even speak at the service ceremony about the deceased. I suppose that’s okay, but some people only want to use the solemn ceremony for very selfish means.

I feel some funerals and memorial services are nothing more than a human ego sideshow for some of the [living] attendees – which would include some nefarious family members with an agenda, as well as so-called “friends” and/or frenemies of the deceased (a frenemy is a person with whom one is friendly despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry); persons who might use the occasion to either deceive themselves and/or someone else with displays of sympathy and mourning as they perform the pointless yet often meaningless acts of “paying their respects” to a…. dead person. The “respect” those persons call themselves paying should have been paid when the deceased person was alive; a time when signs of respect from other living people would have been appreciated. I know that I’d certainly appreciate people showering me with lots of love, affection, tears, and favorable comments about my character, and give me sweet flowers while I’m still alive and still mentally aware to see, hear, sense, and enjoy all of it!

Being non-religious and thereby non-superstitious, I do not believe that any spirit or ghost of a dead person travels to another place of existence nor believes that person’s spirit or ghost returns to visit the living (much less returns in time to attend their own funeral or memorial service). Furthermore, I seriously doubt the dead is capable of having any interest in displays of so-called “respect” [post-death] and would be even less interested in any organized ceremony which the living has put together to honor their death. Now, whether there are a few or there are several people who are actively involved in the funeral or memorial service preparation, some or many members of the family and close friends of the deceased might feel or might be made to feel or believe that the spirit or ghost of the deceased is able to give a damn about things like funeral preparations; Supposed spirit, ghost of the deceased1that the spirit/ghost of the deceased is present and watching to see whether they were going to have a nice, extravagant  funeral or simply a small, awful or perhaps a shitty funeral or memorial service. Playing with the ignorant yet religious or superstitious assumptions that the spirit or ghost of the deceased might linger around after the body has died or that it may return to monitor funeral or memorial service arrangements and implementation held in their honor, I challenge anyone to tell me exactly what, if anything, could the spirit/ghost of the deceased do about such things, particularly of said spirit/ghost isn’t pleased with the funeral or memorial service arrangements or with certain aspects of that ceremony.

It’s little wonder then why funeral and memorial service planners and directors make such big money. Death is big business! It’s quite easy to play upon the grief, stress, frustrations, confusion, and internal turmoil of a grieving family. Casket styles 4 saleSuch a family – often out of some guilt and/or perhaps because of their religious views, silly superstitions, or a family “curse” or fear, might succumb to all the funeral or memorial service preparation hype. I’m talking about the kind of hype that’s offered (perhaps pushed) by or added onto their grief-influenced decision-making by many supposedly sensitive and caring professional funeral and memorial services planners and directors; some of whom never miss a moment to remind the grieving family – particularly the person(s) who will be paying for the funeral or memorial service, that a particular ceremony amenity may be best for that husband, wife, mother, brother, sister, partner or friend of the deceasedIt’s not as though the “dearly departed” could either approve or disapprove with the funeral or memorial service arrangements.

Many years ago, I promised myself to never again attend or participate in a person’s funeral or memorial service unless it was under one or all of the following three conditions:

  • the funeral or memorial service was for someone whom I knew personally; someone whose airspace I had shared a number of times and/or for whom there had long been a mutual sense of love, respect, and admiration;
  • the funeral or memorial service was part of my job as a [then] military man or, if the deceased was an honorably discharged veteran – Burial at sea_USS PELELIU (USNavy)1-rzand fellow veterans were needed to volunteer to assist in the ceremony either as ushers, processional drivers, or pallbearers; or to assist with other ceremonial details such as serving as a member of the honor guard at the deceased veteran’s burial site which might either be at a cemetery or at sea.
    [S/N: During my service in the U.S. Navy, I had the distinct honor to participate in every function just mentioned for a number of U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps deceased veterans whose bodies were to be buried in either a cemetery or at sea, or whose ashes were to be scattered at sea.];
  • the funeral or memorial service was for a fellow and respected member of the fraternal order of Freemasons (of which I am a member), and that Masonic brother either was or had at some point of his service as a Mason, been a member of either my Masonic lodge or at some other Masonic lodge.

Once again it bears repeating: funerals and memorial services are for the livingThe dead…. that cold, lifeless human body that is being prepped for public display (aka a “wake”) has no say in the matter; unless of course the deceased had previously stated in a will or in some other legal or certified document, the desired details of their funeral or memorial service. Such documents may have instructions indicating the wishes of the deceased regarding things like: organ and tissue donation/dissemination, funeral or memorial service arrangements – including who is allowed/not allowed to attend said service/ceremony, and body burial or disposition (e.g., cremation) details. Often a member of the family – usually a spouse, an immediate relative, a parent of the deceased, someone with power of attorney (POA) for the deceased, or a personal or family attorney for the deceased, would be aware of such final instructions. Either that person or someone else who is recognized as the head of the family or the designated representative of the family will usually see to it that the wishes of the deceased, if any, are carried out. That person often works in concert or with the cooperation of the rest of the family to see that proper and desired funeral or memorial service arrangements for the deceased are carefully and properly planned and implemented.

In the United States, funerals and memorial services are considered private citizen type affairs; having only minor to no interference by the local and state governments other than of course, the laws in which all medical personnel, coroners, funeral and memorial service planners and directors must follow. Memorial services1However, if for some reason the deceased had no living spouse, no relatives, or anyone legally authorized to act in his or her stead for post-death affairs (e.g. like the aforementioned organ and tissue donation/dissemination, funeral or memorial service arrangements, and body burial or disposition details, etc.), or if the deceased had no legal representation in such matters, nor any legal document indicating their post-death wishes, then the local and/or state government steps in and does whatever standing ordinance and/or state law requires in such matters.

I have been to my share of funerals and/or memorial services over the past thirty years to have been disappointed and sometimes appalled by some of the hypocrisy demonstrated by some of the people who attended the funeral or the memorial service of persons I personally knew and had loved and respected. Those experiences and perceptions helped shape my opinion and attitude about funerals and memorial services. I have little reason yet to change how I feel.

– RobFather X

Anniversary of September 11, 2001

Today, September 11, 2012, marks the 11th anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, aka 9/11. In fact, today is Tuesday, the very day which September 11 fell on back in 2001.

Regardless whether or not you believe the events leading up to, on, and beyond that day were “planned by our government” or were actually done by America’s domestic and foreign enemies (or both), the fact is, HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE DIED that day. Hundreds have died and/or as a result of the effects of 9/11, STILL suffer health and mental issues to this very day!

Before getting into the meat of this post, let me first say that as far as I know, I did not lose any relatives in the 9/11 attacks. I say that because of situations regarding my limited knowledge and awareness of some of my maternal and paternal relatives. I’ll post something about my status as a foster child later. Also on September 11, 2001, I had only been recently retired from the Navy for two years. Due to the constant change of duty which often occurs in the U.S. military, if is quite possible that a few of my Navy shipmates and acquaintances from other service branches were stationed at the Pentagon on that day. Just the same, the events of that day still affect me quite emotionally, particularly now as I write this blog post. I had the same emotional feelings of loss when the USS Stark (FFG-31) was struck by Iraqi Exocet missiles back in May 1987, but…I digress.

Lay aside, for a brief second, any conspiracy theories and divisive ideas you might have. Lay aside your political allegiances and your social and religious prejudices. Try to bear in mind that none of it will ever bring back the many family members, friends, lovers, co-workers, or rescue workers who tragically died that day, nor will it bring back those people who would die days and weeks later because of the effects of 9/11. And conspiracy theories and prejudice won’t help the hundreds of people, the remaining families and friends who, every year, has to remember what happened on this date. They, the rest of the country, and the world, is made to remember 9/11, in huge part thanks to media and internet rebroadcasts of the two planes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York, the plane crash at the Pentagon in Arlington, VA, and the audio recordings from the black box and passenger cell phone calls of hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Somerset County, PA. All three sites had tragic loss of lives.

On this day I’m asking, no…I’m TELLING you, to get over yourself for a moment. You are still alive and, I assume, healthy enough to at least read these words. Let’s remember that survivors of 9/11 are NOT asking for, nor do they want our pity… however, UNDERSTANDING AND RESPECT go a LONG way! With that said, I give thanks and props (aka accolades) to both President Obama’s and Governor Romney’s presidential campaigns, and to the campaigns of others running for office throughout the country who have decided to hold or cancel any media campaign ads and/or speeches in observance of 9/11. Good move. It is the RESPECTFUL thing to do!

Some of us can and will eventually accept and deal with the death of a loved one if that person is:
1) expected to die and
2) dies peacefully and/or without further pain and suffering. However, there are others who have serious trouble dealing with the death of loved ones who die suddenly, unexpectedly, and tragically. Months and years could pass and still some people cannot completely move on with their lives. It’s important to consider that this is especially noteworthy if, for example this scenario were to occur:

  • On any given day, you’re seeing or speaking with the person and/or saying or waving goodbye, with the natural expectation of seeing and hearing from that same person again. Perhaps you had plans to do something wonderful later in the day with that person. Perhaps you and that person parted on a bad note. Maybe you argued, said or did some mean and spiteful things to the other person in the heat of the moment. You’ve since had time to cool off, with every intention to either apologize or make things right with that person the next time you saw or spoke to said person. Now imagine, hearing only minutes, hours, if not days later, that person died; he or she lost his or her life suddenly and tragically!

Now sure; anyone can argue that all death is tragic;  but to me, that’s a semantic which can be debated later. The point is to simply note one thing we all need to remember: be it peaceful or given to us abruptly, death is a mere heartbeat away.

People, teach your children and grandchildren about the events of this date. For many of us, the tragic event of September 11, 2001 was our Pearl Harbor. On this date, we got to experience what our parents and grandparents experienced some 60 years before many of us were born. Some of the elder folk who were children or young adults during the December 7th, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, probably never imagined that they would ever see ANOTHER attack on American soil in their lifetime! I’m sure veterans of WWII never imagined it either! Pearl Harbor is STILL being talked about and observed to this very day! So I say again, teach your kids about the PLAIN facts, not theories about 9/11, how to treat others, and about the importance of life.

Here are some other things to teach a child about and which we, as adults should also remember:

  • Treat others in the manner and way you would like to be treated. A person’s nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or economic status should NEVER matter.
  • Never depart from the presence or end a phone call from/with someone, particularly a relative, friend, classmate, co-worker, or acquaintance – on a bad note or having said or done something or ugly to that person with first offering to apologize. Also, try to never go to bed at night without clearing the air with the person(s) with whom you had a disagreement.
  • Remember the heroic gestures of others at all three attack sites; those who died in the rescue efforts and how other rescuers and aid workers would get ill, suffer and die days, weeks and months later as result of the effects of the 9/11.
  • Tell your kids, (and we too, should try to remember) that for a moment, on that fateful day, and extending some days and weeks afterwards, AMERICA came together in a crisis: the free world JOINED us in our tears of sorrow and loss and they supported us in our efforts to recompose ourselves and continue on as hurt but still UNITED and vibrant nation. We proved to our enemies that American resolve could not be crushed.
  • Tell your kids how, sadly and shamefully, before all the dust of 9/11 was settled, and before all the bodies could be found, and before we could even begin a search for those responsible for the attacks, we allowed FEAR and IGNORANCE to bring about religious and racial stereotypes of a people and religion many knew or understood little about, let alone, respected. (If you, dear reader, are a minority and/or in a religion OTHER than “christian”, you ought to understand what the innocent Arabic people and/or those worshiping Islamic teachings went through – and are still going, eleven years after 9/11! ) It’s important that our children know that how FEAR and IGNORANCE caused many CLOSED-MINDED individuals to be and to do very nasty things to many innocent Arabic and Islamic people living here in America and abroad, and to other immigrants living (legally or illegally) in America. It was wrong then; it is wrong now.
  • Tell your children to study the history of their country, and to learn more FACTS about 9/11.
  • Finally, teach the children to learn to understand and respect the people, cultures and religions of others on this planet. America may be a world leader and world power but there are many times when we are simply arrogant or come off as such to other countries. We tend to sometimes forget that more than 236 years ago, we were once a young little nation experimenting with freedom, democracy, and independent thinking! That same experiment continues! And let’s teach our kids how important it is to NEVER allow prejudice to cloud their view and discernment of what is right and what is wrong.

Think about where you were and what you were doing 11 years ago this date. Then try to keep in mind that some 30 short years from now, We and OUR children will be telling our descendants about 9/11.
May God’s Spirit comfort the families and friends who lost loved ones eleven years ago today, September 11, 2001.
Keepin’ It…REAL!

I Had a Very Bad Dream Last Night

I either live in a very violent city (Saginaw, MI) or the epitaph of my life is being written somewhere and maybe my time on this Earth is coming to an end. I know; it sounds morbid. But, while I would like to have the longest, healthiest, and prosperous life possible, I’ve never had any pretense about my mortality. To premise this post, let me first note that I’ve watched no violent television or movies in recent days. I’ve not read any books, papers or internet news depicting violence in that same time period. In fact, I just returned from a few days visit with family in my home city of Philadelphia (another violent city). Yet this morning, a mere hour ago, I woke from the worst dream I can ever remember having in years. I dreamt someone shot me, point-blank. In my dream, I was in an area surrounded by many people. It was dark for some reason. I recall all the human figures were like silhouettes; dark and faceless. I saw someone, a male figure, approach me. He pulled out his gun and shot me. I felt the thud of the bullet hit me hard in the center of my chest. I remember shouting out in pain but it wasn’t a loud shout. Although I knew I’d been shot, it really felt as if someone had playfully punched me in the chest. (In reality, a bullet shot is several times worse!) When the bullet hit me, I recall simply saying out loud, “Ohh, that hurts!” As I fell, I remember trying to reach for my cell phone to call for help. I remember thinking over and over, “I am NOT going to die this day! I am NOT going to die this day!” I kept repeating those same words as people just stood around me, watching. No one, not one person, made any attempt to assist me! I remember feeling drowsy, as my eyes started to close. Still, my closing eyes could see no one reaching down to help me….

I’m told it is good, on some therapeutic level, to record the dreams one gets during sleep. I am not a dream interpreter. However, most of my life, I have had many déjà vu dreams of the future. Days, weeks, sometimes months would pass before the actual happening of whatever it was I dreamt about would occur. At that moment, I’ve always stopped for a brief second and say to myself, “I’ve dreamt this! Déjà vu.” Fortunately, not all of my bad dreams of the future have come true (although I wish some of my GOOD dreams would come true). I can’t help but wonder what many of the weird dreams I’ve had over the course of my life really meant. Past dreams notwithstanding, I pray the dream I had last night was not one of some possible future and that it does NOT come true! Still, that particular dream begs the questions: Why was no one willing to help me in that most important moment of need? What did that dream mean, if anything? This inquiring mind wants to know!

Well…I could either ponder the meaning of this terrible dream or simply ignore it, move on with my life, and continue to hope for the long, healthy, and prosperous life I so desire.
Keepin’ It…REAL!