Funeral Planning in a Crazy Family Is…Different

That's my mama in between the Bag Whore and I...

That’s my mama in between the Bag Whore and I…

I’ve got my mama on my mind and, in honor of her and Jane Sadek, I had to put up this post. All of you who think I’m funny? I got it from my mama, who was way funnier.

A quick run-down about my mom, who passed away at age 65 back in January of 2004…

  • 3 words to describe her: compassionate, generous, irreverent. (Read: AWESOME)
  • My baking and gardening skills come from her.
  • She was a tall woman (6’1″) and the first female to letter in 5 sports at her high school.
  • A nurse for 43 years, she spent much of that time in Oncology.
  • Maxine cartoons remind us all of her…in our family she was known as “the Queen of the One-Liner.”

My mama was a stitch.

The night she died, we all quibbled over her Xanax stash, knowing we’d need it to get some sleep before doing all the work death involves. Any of you who’ve done this know there’s a million important details to get through when someone passes away.

My brother (the Bag Whore) and I had lots of help but some of the duties just naturally fell to us. We put my mom’s purse off for a day or so, but the time came to sort through it.

When we got to her wallet, we found all these slips of paper with beautiful quotes on friendship. Of course, I cried, so my brother patted me and kept going through all the other stuff she had tucked in there.

All of a sudden, he elbows me and says, “Sis…check this out,” and hands me a stack of bright orange cards.

“What is it?” I sniffled, not reaching to take them.

“Just read it!”

I grabbed them, looked down, and burst out laughing (language alert here). In huge bold letters, they said:

If you fuck like you park,
you’ll never get it in.

“Oh my Jesus. She has a whole stash of these things?”

“Obviously she’s putting these on people’s cars when they piss her off.” My brother snatched them back. “I could use these.”

When I spoke to the minister later that day, he asked if I’d made decisions about what to include in my mom’s service.

I was telling him about the beautiful messages we’d found in her wallet when my brother started yelling from down the hall. “Are you going to tell him what ELSE you found in her wallet??!”

I covered the phone and yelled back. “No I’m not telling him! Are you crazy?”

I ignored all the choice comments from my Bag Whore brother and got back on the phone with the minister, apologizing for how loud my brother was.

His first words were, “So, you’re not going to tell me??”

I blushed so hard, I thought I’d faint. “I’d rather not. There’s cursing involved.”

“Oh, come on… Your mom was a spicy lady. I’d love to hear.”

Obviously he missed her as much as we did, so I told him and he busted a gut laughing.

My aunts were horrified when I relayed the conversation. At the same time, they both wailed, “YOU TOLD THE MINISTER??!”

They all live in a fairly small town in mid-Missouri so I apologized and promised to mind my manners from there on out.

Then we got to the funeral parlor…

Like most of the big events in my family, we all showed up to offer support. I had aunts, uncles and cousins sitting alongside my brother and I. Plus, my mom’s best friend was there. We’d just gathered for my grandmother’s service the prior year, so we assumed the place was used to the likes of us.

Obviously, the previous funeral director hadn’t shared with the new guy that we travel in packs during times of need. He looked at all 14 of us and said he’d be back with more chairs.

Once we were all seated in a circle, with my brother and I on either side of Mr. Funeral Director, we hashed out the service (which involves a lot of people “shouting it out” when they think of it).

When we got to the end, I said, “I know it might sound kind of morbid, but if any of you would like some of her ashes, you may have them.”

My cousin, Aaron (who was an irrepressible 30 year old at the time), asked, “So how many ashes are we talking about?”

Mr. Funeral Man looked like he’d swallowed a toad. “Um…well. Uh, they come in plastic bag inside a hard plastic case about this big by this big.” And he moved his hands to demonstrate a 10 x 14 x 4 inch bag.

My brother reared back, looking completely offended. “That’s it? That’s all we get?! She was a BIG GIRL!

The room went completely silent.
The funeral director’s mouth opened and closed like a guppy.
Then the snickers started…

They spread around the room until we were all laughing so hard we couldn’t stop.

My uncle (who’d been in the restroom) came flying into the room. “You guys need to CUT IT OUT. There’s people crying and grieving out there and you’re in here laughing and carrying on.”

He turned to the funeral director and shook his hand. “Thank you for your time. We need to go.” He sent the lot of us a stern look that promised we’d be sorry if we didn’t STOP LAUGHING.

I swear, we tried. We just couldn’t stop.

We stumbled out of the funeral home, clutching our sides and gasping for breath, running for our cars so we could collapse in private. Then we all toddled off to lunch at my mom’s favorite burger joint and laughed some more.

Here’s what I know, all these years later: My mother watched us giggle our way through most of her funeral arrangements and, wherever she was, she LOVED it. I wouldn’t go back and change any of it.

Well, except for keeping her here so she could make me laugh that hard in person.

Do you guys have funerals like ours, or are you a bit more dignified? I’m looking for some family stories in the comments! Enquiring minds always  want to know these things here at More Cowbell!


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
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13 Responses to Funeral Planning in a Crazy Family Is…Different

  1. Jane Sadek says:

    Our crowd was smaller, just myself and my husband at a pre-planning meeting. Mr. Funeral went into his routine and it was painfully slow. I began the conversation with, ” Do you have the records for Dad’s funeral, because I want everything to be virtually the same.” He pulled out Dad’s file, but instead of saying, “Good, that makes things easier,” he wanted to go over every single item ad nauseum.

    I’m usually quiet patient with people, but I got a little cranky with his excruciatingly slow reliving of every detail. It didn’t help that my phone was ringing every 7-10 minutes. See, the appointment had been set up for a couple of days, but Mom chose that exact time to get on with the business of dying.

    I’d been by her bedside, night and day, for almost a week. She’d barely done more than breathe quietly, but the second I told the nurse I was leaving, Mom went into crisis mode. I offered to stay, but the nurse insisted I needed to make these arrangements and shooed me out. Still things were moving fast and my phone just kept ringing with various hospice personnel giving me updates.

    When I came back into the room after a particularly difficult conversation, Mr. Funeral had stepped away for a moment and Hubby had a worried look on his face. “Do we need to postpone this meeting?” he asked. I said, “We can’t! If this guy takes much longer, we’re not going to be pre-planning anymore.” Of course, that’s just when Mr. Funeral came back in. Things moved along much more quickly after that and I got to go back to Mom’s side. It took another day for Mom to finish the business at hand, but I guess she thought if I was taking care of the funeral, she might as well get ready for it herself.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      What IS it with those funeral directors? It’s true they have a hard job, but they are just quirky. Those final weeks are full of moments — funny, tough, surreal — but it’s such an honor to be with our loved ones when they pass. Hugs to you, Jane!!


  2. Lena Corazon says:

    This made me laugh and cry all at once. What a wonderful tribute to your mother, and what an AWESOME portrait of your family. We haven’t had any funerals for my immediate family, but we definitely move in packs. My grandmother was in the hospital for a few weeks last year, and there were between 10-15 of is with her at any given time. I think we intimidated the poor doctor. 😛  


  3. davidprosser says:

    My wife decided on the songs she wanted playing at her funeral which included one by Stan Freiburg- The Banana Boat Song. I want something just as daft at mine if my daughter will let me have my way.

    xxx Huge Hugs xxx


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I had to go look up the Banana Boat Song, David. That’s fantastic! You should have as much daftness as you’d like and your daughter should do it all.

      I did everything my mama wanted. Of course we spread half of her ashes in Sanibel Island just before Hurricane Katrina, so I was all pissed off that she likely ended up in Cancun, but that’s just me.


  4. Tari says:

    Our family funerals are pretty somber. I want to change that. I’m kind of famous in my family for my cookies, in fact I’m not allowed to attend a family event without them, so I’ve decided that what I want instead of a traditional funeral is a Cookie Party. I want each of my family members to get my recipe for their favorite cookie, bake it and bring it to the party to celebrate the life I lived, instead of mourning (assuming that’s what they’d be doing otherwise).

    Your mom sounds like a wonderful person, I’d bet that being able to make you laugh after her death would make her very happy.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Tari, I think a Cookie Party sounds magnificent!! My mom was the serious bomb and I know she loves every moment of our laughter. 🙂

      It’s nice to see your face here at More Cowbell!!


  5. You may recall my mother decided to have her wake BEFORE she died. I think your mom and my mom would have gotten along magnificently! xoxox


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I think that was absolutely fabulous, Rachel. Believe me, if my mom had known she might go, she’d totally have wanted to join the party!

      p.s. I believe you’re right and they’d have had a hell of a time. 🙂


  6. John Holton says:

    Mom was not as fun as yours, sadly. We had fun, anyway.

    One of my brothers (call him J.) took the responsibility for typing the program. Just as he finished, we get a call from K., another brother who has not stayed at the old homestead and so far avoided any of the arrangements. “J., Did you run spell check on the program?” “Yes, K., I ran spell check.” J. hangs up and says, “I better run spell check.” One of the songs we picked was Cesar Franck’s “Panis Angelicus.” Spell check flagged “panis,” and recommended “penis.” J. tells me this, and I say, “Let’s make one the right way, and one with ‘penis’ for K.” When K. arrives, he demands to see the program. I stood there and watched as his eyes went wide… God, I wish I had a camera…

    Mom’s sisters got together and recommended that we hold the funeral back in the old neighborhood, because Mom never liked the parish where she lived. So, we held the funeral at the church where she had gotten married, all of us were baptized, etc., and had the wake at the funeral home in the old neighborhood. There must have been 2000 people at the wake at one time or another: Mom’s teacher friends, all of my aunts’ friends, all of our friends, people from the neighborhood I hadn’t seen in thirty years, even a nun that taught me in eighth grade. I was surprised she was still alive, but I guess she wasn’t as old as I thought. The place was rocking well past the time the funeral home closed… I think we finally got everyone out at about 10:30. The next morning, one of my uncles said, “Johnny, if the bar across the street had been open, we’d still be there.”

    Mom would have approved, and even if she didn’t, she wasn’t there to stop us.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      OMG, I love that practical joke. I wish you’d gotten it on video too because I’d totally have made you show it to me. 🙂

      Isn’t it a huge comfort to see your loved one have a great turnout at their service?


  7. ericjbaker says:

    Your mom sounds like a cool chick.

    I hope people laugh after my death, but I prefer they not cheer. 😉


  8. julipagemorgan says:

    My little brother died suddenly back in April, and at the end of his funeral we played the song, “The Memory Remains” by his favorite band – Metallica. Some of the older people harrumphed and muttered under their breath, but it was just so HIM. He’d have loved it!


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