Three men I knew passed away within the same month that left me believing the old folk superstition that “bad things come in threes.” It was spot on. All three suffered from lingering illnesses that were inoperable, that restricted their mobility and their capacity to communicate while their bodies steadily deteriorated. I saw the effects of these on the immediate families. The families, raw with emotion, swung like a pendulum from one extreme to the other. They hang on to a renewed hope that the body would improve, but on other times, surrendered to a helpless acceptance of the inevitable.
At the vigil, I was astounded by the abundance of flowers, beautiful exquisite flowers that must have cost a bundle. It got me wondering. “Why didn’t anyone think of sending him a small pot of fresh plants or flowers for no apparent reason, and not wait to spend thousands of pesos for flowers that he wouldn’t be able to see, much less appreciate?” (One could maybe send instead a bottle of his favorite Shiraz or a cheese platter or Italian antipasto or a decadent chocolate cake). The Canadian recording artist Celine Dion, said that in Quebec, the nuns gather these floral wreaths and dry them. They then wet, roll and form balls out of the petals to make rosary beads that one can give to friends and relatives as a lasting tribute.
It was so sad to see these beautiful flowers being dumped and piled high on the hearse. Mourners tried to save as many of them by pulling them out from the arrangement to drop them on the casket before the tomb was completely sealed.
With that image still fresh on my mind, I was determined to stop this practice by making a questionnaire or list of things that I’d like to be followed when the inevitable time comes around. I was going to share this list with my friends so that they too can prepare now. I called it a “living workshop” but gave it a cooler title: “When I croak….” (Sic).
“Why ‘croak’,” asked friend no. 1. “It’s in reference to a frog that when it croaks, it was time to say goodbye and jump from the lily pad,” I replied. And to spark the enthusiasm in the minds of these confirmed “drama queens”, I gave my personalized list as an example.
In brief, the list covered everything that surviving relatives would need to know if by chance, they failed to take note or listen closely during the lifetime of this departed relative.
When my friends arrived, I gathered them in a round table – like King Arthur and his knights – and gave them a copy of the list.
Friend No. 2 popped her eyes, “Oh this is great! I’ve been thinking about this but haven’t sat down to seriously do it.” (Author’s Note: Now, she has no more excuse not to complete her list.)
Friend No. 3 remarked, “I haven’t made up my mind what to wear.” I replied, “Choose now lest they wrap you in your floral sheet.”
Friend No. 4 thought deeply and said, “I want a solemn celebration. When they come to my wake, it shouldn’t be purely to socialize or use it as a reunion. They must remember that they are there to pray for me. I want each one to pray the rosary and to hear mass. VERY IMPORTANT!” she exclaimed.
Friend No. 5 laughed and said, “I want everyone to eat well so I’m going to book my favorite caterer to feed all of you.” (Author’s Note: Hmm, for sure, she’s going to have a full house of hungry but mourning friends.)
Friend No. 1 interjected and said, “Do you know that I already have prepared an Obituary? Complete with my favorite photo with a gumamela on my hair? It was a candid shot but one that turned on my hidden charm that hubby’s camera captured, miraculously!” (Author’s Note: Ladies, choose your favorite photos now, where you are at your ravishing best, remember.)
While they were writing down the details, I played a medley of love songs starting with Elvis Presley’s “I’ll remember you.” Friend No. 5 suddenly swooned, “Awww, Elvis. I want this song to be played.”
Suddenly, the music switched to “I Loved the Night Life” and two of the ladies stood up and began to shimmy and shake. “Can we have a jam session too?” “If you like,” I said.
Barry Manilow next sang, “I’m out of work, out of my head, out of self-respect, I’m under-loved and underfed, I wanna go home!” (Author’s Note: Yes, in good time.)
After accomplishing the list, in between laughs, teasing and pushing, we all sat down to an afternoon repast of chicken pie and their favorite bacalao with freshly baked baguettes. Friend No. 2 turned to me and asked, “What flowers do you want?” I replied, “I don’t want flowers.”
I told them of the beautiful flowers in the wakes I attended and how it was too late to have them at my funeral. “If we don’t stop to talk now, if we don’t call each other or do kind deeds to each other now, how are we then when we hear of someone’s death? Don’t feel guilty or obligated and send flowers that will never be seen or enjoyed by me.”
“You’re so right,” agreed friend No. 3 as she turned on the TV to watch a well-known talk show host shed buckets of tears, again.
The following day, I received a bouquet of flowers from friend no. 6. She wrote, “I’m thinking of you and you’re not dead.”
Hah! Not just yet but I’m preparing for it, now.
“What the caterpillar perceives is the end, to the butterfly is just the beginning.”
originally published August 14, 2010, PHILIPPINE STAR
by Mabeel Easley
When I quit this mortal shore
and mosey ’round this earth no more,
Do not weep and do not sob;
I may have found a better job.
Don’t go and buy a large bouquet
for which you’ll find it hard to pay,
don’t mope around and feel all blue;
I may be better off than you.
Don’t tell the folks I was a saint
Or any old thing that I ain’t.
If you have jam like that to spread,
Please hand it out before I’m dead.
If you have roses bless your soul,
Just pin one in my buttonhole
While I’m alive and well today;
Don’t wait until I’m gone away.
When I croak….
1) CREMATION or Traditional Burial? Your preferred choice must be clear to your loved ones.
2) BURN WITH ME THE FOLLOWING: At the cremation, do you want anything you value personally to be included? (Rosary, favorite prayer, souvenir, etc.)
3) MY ATTIRE: (What do you want to wear?): Do you want to wear your favorite jeans, blouse, dress or wedding gown?
4) MAKE UP: For those who will opt for the Traditional Burial, do you wish your favorite make up artist to do your make up?
5) ONE-DAY VIGIL (or more) and INTERNMENT: (Venue) Specify the venue whether Church, memorial chapel, at home, etc.
6) PORTRAIT OR PAINTING TO BE USED: (To be displayed at the wake or vigil) Choose your favorite photo and have it enlarged.
7) DRESS CODE: (Do you want your sympathizers to wear a particular color?) One friend wants everyone to come in white shirt and blue jeans.
8) FLOWERS: (What colors or kind of flowers do you like to be displayed at the wake to be arranged by your chosen florist)
9) PHYSICAL ARRANGEMENT AT VIGIL/WAKE: (Any lay out that you prefer?) In one vigil, the favorite typewriter of the deceased was displayed together with his desk and books.
10) AUDIO VISUAL: (Do you want a video of your favorite photos and music?) You may have celebrated a milestone that was recorded in an audiovisual presentation. Do you want to use this? Or would you like to have a new one made?
11) MUSIC: (classical, hits of your generation, love theme songs, kundimans, etc.) Do you want a church choir or a band to play during the wake and at the memorial mass?
12) MASS or SERVICES: (Catholic rites or other denomination?)
13) PRIESTS or MINISTERS/PASTOR: (Do you have a favorite priest or minister who will say mass or preside over the last rites for you?)
14) ROSARY and NOVENA: Any particular novena to your favorite saint, etc.?
15) EULOGY: (Choose who will speak at the mass or gathering from your family, relatives, BFFs, colleagues, etc.)
16) PROGRAMME COORDINATOR: (Designate your children, friends, colleagues to plan the last rites)
17) THANK YOU STAMPITAS/SOUVENIRS: (To be distributed at the end of the mass or ceremony). When my brother in law passed away, his daughters distributed a children’s book on Alzheimer’s Disease (“Ang lihim namin ni Inciong”) together with a novena to the Infant Jesus of which he was a devotee.
18) FOOD/MENU: (choose menu). Your favorite food to be served.
19) DONATIONS: (If your family gets donations, do you want this to be given to your favorite charity, church or any individual?)
20) BY THE WAY:
a) Do I owe anyone money? If in case you have outstanding IOUs
b) Who owes me money? Hopefully, this won’t be necessary if those who owe you are straightforward and sincere in paying you back.
c) Pending stuff: Acknowledge household staff who have been faithful, loyal and kind to you. And for other special wishes, write them down here.