29. Pallbearers… a dying breed

When I was 20-something and single, I hung out with a group of close friends from high school days. I had created an on-going gallows humor narrative about whom I would select as my six pallbearers. It was like little kids who promise, “You can be my best friend.”

Back then, there were four guys who were always on the varsity pallbearer team; the other two slots changed from month to month. It recently hit me that two of those varsity pallbearers have already died. They beat me to the finish line! What’s with that?

With only two still alive, I need to start thinking about the other four slots. Luckily, I have good friends here in Chicago, guys who are strong candidates to be my pallbearers.

For some reason, pallbearers have always been male. Why should that be? Maybe I can be groundbreaking – literally and figuratively – by admitting women to my pallbearing ranks. History books would show that Obama was the first black president, and Mitchener allowed the first woman pallbearer.

So, to all my friends: I’ll soon be accepting resumes from qualified men and women for the position of Mitchener’s pallbearers.

On your resumes, I’ll need to see your skill sets, education, work experience, hobbies and how much you can lift with one arm. Previous pallbearing experience is preferred, but not required. (It’s easy to pick up.) And I’ll need references, at least one of whom must still be alive.

But… here’s the thing. At funerals I’ve attended the past few years, I’ve noticed a definite dearth of pallbearers. Pallbearing has become passé. Thanks to those wheeled carts funeral homes provide (similar to bellmen’s carts at nice hotels, except no tipping), pallbearers are a dying breed.

Maybe I need to rethink this whole thing.

I certainly don’t want my wife to have to make tough decisions while she’s in the throes of grief: whether to have pallbearers, who they should be, what color coats and ties and dresses they should wear, etc. Plus, she’ll be busy making my favorite lasagna, setting the table, stocking the bar, preparing her eulogy. (I’ll try to help her with that right before I go.) It wouldn’t be fair to add yet another responsibility.

And I don’t want to get six guys’/gals’ hopes up, and they get all excited, shop for matching outfits, make reservations to get mani-pedis together on the day of the funeral…  and they’re told at the last minute that their pallbearing services won’t be needed.

So I’ll make that decision now, while I’m still breathing: no pallbearers at Mitchener’s funeral. Done.

While I’m at it, what about other elements of my funeral? This is what I used to do for a living: write creative meeting plans for clients, plans that included entertainment, speeches and videos. I should be able to plan an exciting funeral for myself.

Speaking of videos, what about a funeral video? I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe I’ll write a videulogy treatment, and hire a New York video production company to produce it.

Of course, I’ll help Carole with her eulogy. Actually, what the hell… why don’t I just write the damn thing myself? After all, who knows Larry better than Larry? One less thing on her plate.

To compensate for the lack of pallbearers, maybe we have an open mic session, inviting my friends to come up and tell their favorite Larry stories. They can reminisce about my generosity; my quick, penetrating, sometimes acerbic wit; my laser-like first serve. Some of my friends may be nervous in front of a crowd – stand-up eulogies are tough – so I’ll write some sample stories they can read.

And the music. I want it to be lively, upbeat, not the dirgelike “Amazing Grace” everyone expects. I’m thinking something like “Shout!” perhaps, or “Louie Louie”. Something that gets people up and dancing. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCY0bAPLZ1w

And as the final touch, the pièce de résistance, I’ll write the final Old Guy post, and have it scheduled to appear right after the funeral. That way, all of my Old Guy followers will be able to read one final Old Guy reflection, summarizing life, death, and the human condition. Or maybe it’ll be the first post of a new blog: Dead Guy. Either way, it’ll be a surprise ending you’ll remember for years.

It’s going to be one hell of a funeral. Pallbearers or not, I want it to be perfect. I may not get another chance.

(Don’t worry. No health scares here. I’ve always tried – sometime successfully, sometimes not – to use humor to defuse sensitive topics.) 

17 thoughts on “29. Pallbearers… a dying breed

  1. Hi Larry, You’ve waited too long to have a first female pallbearer. The pallbearers for my husband’s deceased father included one of his granddaughters who helped carry the casket up the front steps of the church – in 3″ heels. Old news. BTW, check your email.
    Cousin Jane

  2. Larry
    Count me out. ( Is it vain to think I was considered?). I was planning on seeing the u tube to avoid the massive crowds of tearful mourners. Could you photoshop me on one of the selected bearers? That would be a keepsake for me forever.
    Thanks for your consideration. Bill

  3. Some pretty heavy shit. Well written. Just two comments and a question.
    -loved the phrase “definite dearth”
    -maybe you shouldn’t refer to being in good health as a spoiler
    -how did you get that fancy little French squiggle on top of the e in passe?

    1. Bill, you’re absolutely right on the spoiler alert. I just changed it.
      On that fancy French squiggle, I don’t know; I just have a certain je ne sais quoi about things like that.

  4. Finding 3 right handed friends and 3 left handed friends is the stress for me.

  5. You know my dad everything planned down to the scotch. He bought the grandkids the proper funeral clothing each year including coat, scarves and gloves. Of course, we teased him that he didn’t know when he would die, so why keep buying when the kids were growing, especially winter clothes. Of course, he died in January and they wore the clothes he bought them. We had the scotch he wanted and the bagpiper on the hill. He and Eric wrote his obituary together years before his death. Of course, the tombstone just needed an end date too. If you need a female pallbearer volunteer, let me know. I’ll see if I can find one for you.

  6. Pallbearers are like an honor guard; you need them. When my mom died, I asked a male cousin from each branch of the family and my two sons to do the honors. My boys said they couldn’t since all they’d brought with them were Bermudas. I pointed out that I’d told them she was dying, so why the hell hadn’t they packed funeral clothes? One explained, “We were in denial.” They argued about the pallbearer gig, but I insisted since I didn’t care what they wore and for once their grandmother didn’t either. Besides, it gave the whole ceremony a nice kind of Jimmy Buffett/Margaritaville vibe that you might want to consider. Be sure to invite me! I can’t wait to tell stories!!

  7. I have always taken the attitude that what do I care what goes on at my funeral……I’ll be dead! However recently that attitude has been altered somewhat. Possibly I do care, but just a little. Funerals are for the living not the dead. They are for a for remembering the deceased as a “Wonderful Person”, “He/She could really serve that tennis ball!”, or as in my case “A superior Intellect”.
    Getting back to the Pall Bearers…..in this day, many of the objects of funerals are cremated. Therefore only one pallbearer is needed. Thus creating even more of a dilemma. If only one then who? If more than what should they do? One to carry in and one for out! My goodness….the decisions are endless. Life is complicated, I guess death is too. Sheeesh

    1. It certainly is. I heard a story about Art Buchwald, when he was in process of dying. One of his visitors at the hospital expressed his sympathy with Art’s condition. Buchwald supposedly responded, “Dying is easy. Finding a parking space is hard!” Now dying is so difficult, what with all the things you have to remember and people you have to include. Similar to planning your wedding… at least, planning your first wedding.

    2. TJ, no that’s not Dick Kettenbrink. It’s my neighbor in our condo building. But I just realized the similarity… Dick Prescott is Kettenbrink’s news anchor name, right?

  8. Why do you think I have been training with Tom. After 3 years of weight lifting, I am almost ready to bear your weight!

    1. Thank you, Larry. Your brother Gary and myself have been covering the same ground (currently above ground for now) in recent months. But I never thought about pallbearers. In cremation ceremonies I guess they are not needed. C’est la vie!

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