Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It´s your funeral

As the child of immigrants, my parents emigrated from England to the US in the 50s, I never seemed to develop that abiding sense of place that some people do. I grew up in the midwest, went to graduate school in Texas, visited LA, NYC and Seattle, lived in Montana and then Chicago and now Madrid. There are things that I liked about all of them, but none calls to me as my definitive ¨home¨.

So when V and I were at Finesterra on the Costa da Morte earlier this year - I told him I wanted my ashes scattered in the Atlantic between Spain and the US. It appeals to my sense of being ¨between¨ places and people.

Planning your funeral is an odd exercise. It is supremely narcissistic (after all you´ll be dead and not in a position to either know nor care if your wishes are followed), and oddly sensitive to the survivors at the same time.

And since I decided a long time ago not to have children and have no plans to return to the states, figuring what will happen to my stuff is a little complicated - nieces and nephews by marriage, charitable or cultural organizations? Or just plan to die poverty stricken, which seems more and more likely.

I think the traditional Spanish funeral obsession is fading over generations. V and his brothers and sisters are not at all interested in the usual open caskets, visitations and burials the way his parents are. Who came and who didn´t and who said what to who are all very significant. His mother has spent whole afternoons (on more than one occasion)telling me about every tragic or unusual death she can remember. Scenarios include toddlers falling from high apartment windows, sudden illness, or long, lingering, debilitating conditions, the whole gamut. I remember hearing the phrase ¨Capilla Ardiente¨ on the news whenever some celebrity died and thinking there must be a big Chapel called ¨Ardiente¨ where all the famous people were taken (literally ¨burning¨ or ¨glowing¨ chapel, but anywhere the casket is taken for any funeral service). If you´ve seen celebrity funerals here (Rocio Jurado is the last one I can think of - it was a humdinger both first in Madrid and then in Chiprio in Andalucia), you know the Spanish can put on a show. People waited in line for days to say goodbye to Lola Flores and Franco (not that anyone talks about that now).

One of the things that surprised me was how fast they get you into the ground(or oven as the case may be) here. In the US it can take a couple of weeks for a funeral to get organized. But here - the deceased is normally sorted within 48 hours.

Burial arrangements are getting complicated as well. I live near La Almudena, the principal cemetery in Madrid. V tells me there are 5 million people buried there. In fact, there´s a general policy of periodically digging up remains to consolidate them and make more room. Niches are increasingly popular as the ¨condominium¨ option of cemeteries. La Almudena has its own bus service and street map.

It helps that I´m an atheist. So I get to choose something from a whole range of traditions, not confined to the Spanish cult of death. The pure spectacle of a Viking funeral appeals to me - but what a nightmare for your survivors to have to organize. Just getting the necessary permits would be daunting. I think a rowboat will be fine, and as far as I´m concerned they can either scatter the ashes or just chuck the entire urn into the sea and be done with it. We all know there are worse things being released into the ocean all the time.

That leaves the music. Queen´s ¨Who wants to live Forever¨ blasting from oversized speakers is perhaps a tad over the top.
Upon reflection, a lone piper playing on the conveniently adjacent hilltop could be both economical and dignified. Bagpipe music has always made me cry and also makes my hair stand on end. How´s that for neurological confusion. Although, since I will be dead, I don´t expect it to produce that effect on this particular occasion. I rejected ¨Amazing Grace¨ both because of too many policemen´s funerals in Chicago and also the Bapto-Christian connotations. I am most definitely NOT saved, or even safe for that matter.

Here´s a selection of lovely songs.

I´m partial to ¨The Dark Island¨ which is from a Scottish TV mystery series. I love mysteries. I wonder if its available on DVD. I do hope the Scots won´t mind.


In the years long ago
When I first left my home
I was young and I wanted
The whole world to roam;
But now I am older
And wiser, you see,
For that lovely dark island
Is calling to me.

cho: O, I've wandered away
From the land of my birth,
And been roaming around
To the ends of the earth,
Still my heart is at home
In that land far away
That lovely dark island
Where memories stray.
One day I'll return
To that far-distant shore,
And from that dear island
I'll wander no more.
'Til the day that I die
I will no longer roam
For that lovely dark island
Will be my last home.

Oh - and I want one hell of a wake.


  1. Hello Coco,I also have ideas of how I wish to be disposed of but in Spain it would seem that you can't have a green burial,my wish is a wicker coffin and a woodland site, unheard of here.

  2. “Planning your funeral is an odd exercise.”—And also, the thought of it raises some eyebrows. But the fact that you're planning now only means that you're ready for whatever would happen. Death is inevitable. We'll never know when we're going to say goodbye. That's why it's best if you plan ahead of time. In that way, you still have time to make everything right.

    Jody @FredHunters.com