Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ruth Deming, Funeral Orator ( ! )

Wore my floor-length purple velvet gown w/hidden PJ bottoms to keep me warm on this crisp cold but sunny morning to officiate at Lester's funeral. Who's Lester? Dunno. Never met the man but I did meet his widow, Rose, who hired me to conduct the funeral.

Rose, a retired schoolteacher and librarian, selected nearly two dozen poems for me to read. She also hired Jack Enea, singer/songwriter to perform favorite standards on his guitar.

"How long have you and Jack worked together?" people asked us.

"Today was the first time," we said. Jack is not only a fabulously talented performer but he's instantly likable, a warm, courtly young man with a beautiful smile.

When Rose told me after the funeral that our dual performance exceeded her expectations, I said the driving force for me was that I didn't want to disappoint her or the audience. Stayed up last night and made the difficult choices of:

- The order of the poems

- What poems to omit due to the 50-minute time frame

- When to add Jack's songs

I did massive Internet research on the poets and learned a lot. Did you know that "Boston marriage" refers to two women who are committed to one another and live together in an intimate but non-sexual relationship?

Poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe, author of the lines "Come live me with me and be my love," was a contemporary of Shakespeare who was stabbed to death at a tavern at the age of 29?

My opening statement began something like this: Rose and Lester loved the simple things of life, the pleasures that are available to all of us. I'm gonna read some poems Rose selected that reflect some themes she and Lester care deeply about:

Animals and the kind care of animals
The Seashore
The Love among people that sustains us all

And Jack Enea (uh-NAY-uh) will enhance our program with some favorite songs you're sure to enjoy.

I told Rose I learned to speak in front of people at my support group where we sit in a horseshoe and I walk back and forth, maintaining eye contact with everyone.

Wetzel and Son Funeral Home was packed with Lester's friends and family. His beautiful granite urn sat on a table. Afterwards, I asked Elena, the funeral director if I could lift it up. It was surprisingly heavy. I have a fascination w/death.

Elena, the young and beautiful funeral director, was even more fascinated w/death than me. As a child, she buried her Barbie dolls. I asked if she and Matt, the other director, were Wetzels or related to them and she said No.

Here are some lines of poetry I read this morning, again all the poems were selected by Rose w/the help of her older sister Anna, a darling 85-year-old and former language teacher in Bristol:

For oft, when on my couch I lie,
in vacant or in pensive mood,
They [daffodils] flash upon that INWARD EYE
which is the bliss of solitude;
and then my heart with pleasure fills,
and dances with the daffodils.

Now, every reader fears her tongue will trip over words, or mis-read them. The few mistakes I made I covered over by inventing a word or two without missing a beat. Hopefully no one noticed.

I read O Captain My Captain, about the death of President Lincoln (the only Republican I ever voted for other than Tom Murt) in a most dramatic way, walking back and forth on the deck. Oops, I mean the carpeted floor, just in front of Lester's ashes.

But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

My research on In Flanders Fields taught me this famous patriotic war poem was written by a Canadian physician after his comrade fell in a WWI battle. The poet, unhappy w/the poem, threw it out, but it was rescued by another soldier.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

You'll recognize some of these lines from R L Stevenson's Requiem:

Here he lies where he longs to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Did you know a poem can be a bit of philosophy, I said. Listen to this one by Edwin Markham from Oregon City, Oregon:

He drew a circle that shut me out -
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!


After I read Marlow's The Passionate Shepherd to His Love which begins and ends with Come live with me and be my love, I said, if anyone wrote me a poem like this, I'd come live with them and be their love.

And here's one by British poet John Masefield which I hadn't read since high school, like many folks in the audience. Here's the third & last stanza. Pay particular attention to the way he describes Death:

I must go down to the seas again to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

My reading concluded with the lovely anthem-like Twenty-Third Psalm credited to King David and selected in memory of Juanita, Lester's mother:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of
righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of
death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod
and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine
enemies: thou anointest my head with oil: my cup runneth
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my
life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

I certainly don't mean to be immodest, but I feel that for some time now, perhaps even always, I have dwelt in the House of the Lord. Another way of saying this might be that I'm "in the flow."

Afterward, we were all invited to a sumptuous Italian meal at Moonstruck restaurant just down the street. Rose, an utterly gracious woman, and her huge Italian family, many of whom are tall like Rose is, sat at white linen-covered tables for the three-course meal. Every single morsel was delicious.

When I got home I told Scott about it, suggesting we take his parents there. We looked it up online and saw they have a Valentine Day special at $75 prix fixe, a little too pricey for us.

"Where do you wanna go for Valentine's Day?" he asked.

I thought a moment and suggested we try a new place called Gerard Cafe by the Belgium-trained chef Gerard. Mediterranean food at its finest.

When you talk to an Italian or you talk to a Jew (moi), food is our favorite subject.


  1. How interesting. I had thought about offering a coaching package of helping to create personalized services for funerals with some bereavement coaching sessions, and also thinking obecoming a JP and offering the same for weddings, with pre-marital coaching/wedding preparation.

    It sounds like it was a lovely service and how fortunate they were to have you help them with it.

    Yes, food is a favorite subject!!!

  2. great idea to offer personalized funeral services for your coaching practice - and also for weddings. as they say, weddings and funerals. in today's economic climate, diversity is the stuff of earning a living, including learning to be a jp. my daughter sarah has some sort of certificate so she can marry people. if interested you can find her on facebook.

  3. This is one of the most brilliant posts that I have ever read on any blog, anywhere. Thought provoking and moving. If I beat you to the end, then you should stop by my funeral and say something.

    Thanks for the postcard. I have not had a chance to go through and open up my mail yet, but it did me good to find your card.

  4. thanks for your very kind post, bill! i'll probly die first since i have problems with my kidneys, but who knows. lifek, for both of us, has never been better. i am hard at work on my novel and comments like these, bill, absolutely keep me going! thanks, man.