WHAT KIND OF FAREWELL PARTY DO YOU WANT?
"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." Dr. Seuss
One of my wife’s cousins recently passed away, and we respectfully attended a “celebration of his life.” He was a laid-back but very outgoing kind of fellow who mostly took life in stride. Fittingly, the farewell gathering wasn’t held at a church but instead at a sports bar, one of his favorite hang-outs. Appropriate attire was not jackets and ties, but flowered shirts and shorts or slacks. There were no hymns and sermons; actually, there was no program of any kind, unless you can call a series of impromptu toasts a “program.” Instead, his friends and family and dozens of old high school buddies met and mingled, shared drinks and stories of him, all to the sound of rock songs on the loudspeakers in a large open room circumscribed with a dozen giant-screen TV showing baseball, soccer, golf, and the Olympics. The conversation was as loud as the music, and everyone seemed to have their favorite memory about the deceased.
In other words, it was HIS kind of party at HIS kind of place.
I’ve begun to think that, besides a religious service for us when we pass, we ought to also leave instructions for the kind of farewell party we want friends and family to attend in our memory. It’s fun to consider the possibilities . . . .
Are you a great cook, or someone who loved wonderful food? Party instructions could say: Everyone bring a special dish (along with copies of the recipe to share); the hosts will provide sampling plates, serving utensils, and appropriate beverages. Perhaps we could put together a little recipe book from the Farewell Party, including several of the best cooking tips from the dearly departed.
Are you an avid fisherman? Party instructions could say: Bring your rod and reel and tackle for a fishing tournament during the day. Equipment provided for those who don’t have their own. That evening we’ll all gather for a fish fry. Everyone will share their favorite fishing stories around the fire. Special prizes for the largest fish caught and the biggest whopper (true or not) told afterwards.
Are you an earnest gardener? Party instructions could say: Bring a trowel or small shovel and your down-and-dirty clothes because we’re going to plant 2,000 daffodil bulbs around the flower garden of the dearly departed. After the planting, we’ll have a picnic in a near-by park. (We actually did this several years ago in honor of one of my wife’s great-aunts.)
Are you a musician, or a lover of music? Party instructions could say: Bring your talent and your instrument (piano provided; piano players, please leave yours home) and let’s jam. Note: the dearly departed’s favorite genre of music should be identified in the invitation so as not to create an awkward clash of styles. Play until your fingers fall off and everyone is hoarse. Singing and dancing are definitely encouraged. Party food provided by the hosts.
Are you big into barbeque? Party instructions could say: Bring your grills, smokers, and cookers and your favorite types of meat, and get down for some serious BBQ competition. There will be tasting and judging for best BBQ in honor of the deceased. The hosts will provide the side dishes and drinks.
Are you crazy about crafts? Party instructions could say: The dearly departed invites all her family and friends to gather for a crafting celebration with one or more of the following different types of crafts: painting/coloring, jewelry making, cross-stitch, crocheting, embroidery, friendship bracelets, knitting, macrame, needlepoint, quilting, sewing, tie-dye, calligraphy, card making, origami, papier-mâché, scrapbooking, stamping, pottery, stained glass, leatherwork, beadwork, and pressed flower craft. In other words, there will be something for everyone. If there’s any time left after all that, we’ll enjoy a light lunch.
Do you love service projects and philanthropy? Party instructions could say: To honor the dearly departed, we’ll be serving at a soup kitchen, a food pantry, or a children’s cancer hospital. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to a charity of your choice. We’ll gather later to share why we support the charities we each chose.
Are you a passionate shopper? Party instructions could say: Bring $20 and gather at the outlet mall, regular mall, or thrift shop. Guests will be challenged to buy something that is TOTALLY THEM within an hour. After the shopping spree, each shopper will present their purchases, with prizes awarded to the top three “TOTALLY THEM” purchases that are best reflective of the dearly departed. Heavy refreshments to be provided.
Are you a super sports fan? Party instructions could say: We have a block of tickets for the big game — we sure hope your team wins! Be sure to wear your team colors. Hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels, (cracker jacks?) and your favorite beverages for everyone. Later, let’s gather for a highlight reel of the dearly departed’s favorite sporting moments.
Are you a dead-serious genealogist? Party instructions could say: Bring your pedigree charts, family group sheets, and historic photographs, and let’s figure out how we’re related and who has the most interesting/roguish/distinguished ancestors. A sampling of historic foods will wind up the evening.
Do you love poetry? Party instructions could say: Have you written any poetry, or do you have a favorite piece you can recite or read? Bring to the gathering in the community room of the library, where we’ll celebrate those who have a way with poem, for better or for “verse.” There’s surely someone out there who can still recite The Cremation of Sam Magee or Casey at the Bat. Lemonade and tea cookies afterwards.
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I could go on and on, but you get the point. Create a celebration of your life, one that will send you out in style. Let it be an event that will have everyone grateful they knew you, an occasion to remember your stories and personality. As Dr. Seuss said, let’s not cry because it’s over; let’s smile and laugh that it happened at all. Celebrate life!
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On second thought, why should the festivities happen after we’re dead? Jeff Goldblum commented: "Amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can’t come." Let's turn that around and make it happen while we're still able to attend. Why should WE miss all the fun?
We shouldn’t let such a fine occasion go to waste. Garrison Keillor famously said, "They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad to realize that I’m going to miss mine by just a few days." Why don’t we plan our own farewell party to suit our own tastes, and then invite our friends and family while we’re still alive? That way, we won’t miss all the nice things people might have to say about US.