A pre-death memorial service: excellent idea.
A few years ago I got an unusual call from a man in Maryland. His elderly father's birthday was coming up and this son hired my band to play for the party - not background music, a concert.
When we arrived, three little rows of chairs had been set up out on the patio and we did a private performance. There was a little bit of dancing and some singing-along and it was just so much fun.
A few weeks ago this same man called me back with a sadder and even more unusual request, sent by his father.
This dad, a retired Methodist minister now dying of prostate cancer in a hospice-care setting in Burlington, had decided he wanted a pre-death memorial service. Instead of having all his friends, family, and loved ones gather AFTER he was dead and kiss and hug and say what a great guy he was, he wanted them to gather and do all those things while he, too, could enjoy them. And he wanted our band to play for the event.
All the rest of my band-mates were busy but I got the magnificent, sweet, and amusing Robert Griffin to sign on with me. The son sent us a list of tunes and a schedule of events.
So, this past Saturday Robert and I showed up at the elder community. We were early so we took a walk around the grounds and sat in a gazebo on a bridge overlooking a pond. (The promo called this pond a lake but seeing as how the big fat swans swimming right in the middle could reach the bottom with their beaks, I hardly think it deserved the grander appellation...) We watched the swans present us with their giant rear ends again and again while we talked about our own fathers, each of whom had served in World War II at the age of 17. It was a great conversation.
Then we went in to set up. There were eventually about 200 people in the room. The only obnoxious one was the duffer with the video camera who was bossy and got in everybody's way.
Here are the songs we played:
- Button Up Your Overcoat
- The Garden Song (Bill Staines)
- Maple Leaf Rag (Robert did that one!)
- I'm in the Mood for Love
- What a Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong)
- Climb Every Mountain
- Pennies from Heaven
- Sabbath Prayer (Fiddler on the Roof)
- Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee (aka Ode to Joy)
Lots of people got up and told great stories. For instance, that this man and his wife were big into Crop Walk and that long ago they had helped desegregate the Methodist Ministry in Ohio. That he made hockey sticks for his sons and all their friends when money was tight, and built them a treehouse twenty feet in the air with real windows and a real door and "two ways up." That he had changed the lives of many of the people in that room.
His grandchildren all stood up - a robust group, from teens down to a very cute six year old. There were hugs a plenty.
And then it was over. I was in a hurry to get back for another performance, so I didn't get a chance to tell the dad how great I thought his idea was and how beautiful and inspiring it was. I've been talking about it ever since.
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