psy·chot·ic leop·ard sīˈkädik/ˈlepərd/ noun · anything that is funky, interesting, beautiful, niche, useful, and grabs one's attention

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How to Throw The Best Funeral Party Ever: For Jim

Posted by Lisa Johnson on

First, fall desperately in love with one of the classiest women you can imagine. Live and be with her for half a lifetime, and become her best friend.  Know her deeply.

Know her so well that you decide to throw a celebration for her 80th birthday.  It will be the first huge party anyone has organized just for her, and keep it a big surprise.  Weeks will pass, and no one will slip up.  Get very excited.

And when she goes into the hospital from fatigue two weeks beforehand, when the long term serious illness is discovered, don't cancel anything.  And when it is apparent that this isn't getting better, and that time may be limited, don't cancel.  But do mention the party idea to her finally, as so many people are planning to fly in.  And when she says she doesn't have the energy for crowds, just say that it will be smaller and more intimate at the house, and that kids won't be allowed.  Still don't cancel.

And when she dies just a couple of days later, so unexpectedly sooner than anyone could have imagined, keep those party plans.  Focus on how she would have wanted it, what she would have loved, and do it anyway.

Decide not to hold the ceremony in a church or temple; that's just not her.  Instead, have it right at the cemetery where her ashes are freshly buried, just a few miles down the road from your home, on a glorious early autumn morning, during Indian summer.

Even though clouds are in the forecast, do not worry or even think about alternative settings.  Do not fret about whether chairs are needed or any formal logistics.  It will all work out. 

Arrange her close friends and relatives in a circle and present each of them with a beautiful large lily, white and alive, because that was her favorite flower. Have immediate family members, as they were among those closest to her, speak first. Allow them to read from the most recent birthday card that they sent to her, when they learned she was dying, and know that these will be among some of the most profound and affecting. 

Give everyone a chance to speak, whether it is from a pre-written note, or just off-the-cuff memories and reflections.  When each person finishes, have him/her place the lily onto your beloved's gravestone, so that a pile of exuberant fragrance wafts through the day.

Her identical twin brothers, who she, as a child, was responsible for entertaining (among many other things), will remember how pesky they were and how they used to booby-trap the house whenever she had boyfriends over as a young woman. Allow for laughter, lots of it, in the midst of what is supposed to be a somber occasion. She herself loved to laugh, and was a loud laugher.

Expect quick shifts in emotion, as this loss is indeed profound.  When her youngest son tells how she supported him on every single level, and how she could uncannily talk him through his deepest doubts, make sure that tissues are readily available. 

And visualize that shining face of hers when her granddaughters remember when she let them dye her white hair a rainbow of color with Kool-aid, then promptly forgot about it, and went out to Target, wondering why everyone kept staring.  When confronted with a mirror, she had happily announced, "I look like a movie star!" and not bothered to wash it out.

Go further down the circle, allowing each person to take as much time as needed.  Learn more about her than you might have known already: her shoe shopping addiction and ability to entrap an army of salespeople during these outings, her love for the Russian Tea Room and red Chanel lipstick, and her ability to drop $500 on a bit of makeup without a second thought.

Even as the day gets hotter, and people trip and fall over gravestones, while another nearly faints and has to sit in his car, allow the ceremony to go on without interruption.  Because this is what is important.  And if she is somewhere listening, she would have wanted to hear the whole thing.

After the ceremony, head back to the home that you shared with her for decades, with the scent of her still on your sheets which have not been changed, where tables have been set up in the backyard, with a canopy overhead, in the midst of her beautiful garden.  Fill the whole place, even the driveway, with the foods that she loved most:  handmade potato chips with fresh sour cream and onion dip, corn on the cob individually wrapped in foil, bean salad, and cardboard boxes of whole lobsters!  Limitless!  Expensive! Have so many desserts that flowers have to be moved, cake boxes piled one on top of the other on the floor. Even the freezers should overflow with miniature Reese's Pieces sundaes, because she would have gotten such a kick out of that too.  And everyone will just be so delighted.

Prominently display the visual memories and reminders:  a series of disorganized and fabulous photo collages you and her son put together, displaying so many friends, neighbors, relatives, and family with whom she was close to. Later, allow guests to pluck off their favorites, each bringing home copies of her enormous smile, like party favors. 

With full bellies, spend the afternoon reminiscing with a lifetime of photo albums, lounging on couches.  Talk about favorite family vacations, and identify as many people as you can in all of the old pictures, and underneath, consider how much she will be missed.

Throughout the day, keep feeling as though she is just outside the corner of your eyesight, sitting at the head of one of the tables, plucking potato chips from a friend's plate, talking with her mouth full, and laughing so hard that it looks like she's crying. 

And know that she would have been thrilled to know that her funeral was one of the best parties ever.


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  • Sounds like a great day for a great lady, Lisa . Nicely done!
    Lorna on

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