A Funeral Fit for a Queen / King: Aretha Franklin v. John McCain

At the risk of sounding disrespectful (as opposed to actually being disrespectful, which I can also be at times), please allow me to be honest: We have all been to festive and frightening weddings, jovial and pathetic birthdays, and good and bad funerals. But instead of me brooding over how I never received a meal at my sister’s wedding eight years ago, let’s focus on what really matters: The people who spoke up, and what they said.

John McCain’s funeral hosted a well-groomed, thoroughly vetted procession of speakers, guests and attendees. His eulogy by his daughter was heartfelt and appropriate for an American hero. He was even clear about who should and should not attend his funeral (while President Trump’s absenteeism should shock no one, Sarah Palin’s absence was a little surprising), and had clearly crafted his vision on what he wanted to be remembered about his life during his funeral. Hey, most of us only get one funeral, and due to the nature of his illness he had time to plan. John McCain’s legacy begins with both feet facing forward.

And then there was Aretha Franklin’s funeral and the media fiasco we are currently seeing unfold. I wrote on her estate last week and focused on her secretive nature and approach to privacy. While this was likely a positive approach regarding her estate, her silence as to her desired funeral lead to a eulogy that seems to overshadow the otherwise appropriate remembrance of her life. The pastor used this woman’s last day in the spotlight to make a political and social commentary that was inappropriate considering Ms. Franklin’s own life and did not really address her legacy at all. Ms. Franklin’s family’s perception of her eulogy has been all over the news, and is another great example of how not to approach your final great moment.

To plan for your funeral, I suggest you make the following lists and take the following steps:

  1. Create instructions for the ultimate disposition of your remains; in some states this is controlled by a separate document from your Will. You will also want to name the person who will be in charge of this process.
  2. Prepay your funeral expenses and use the undertaker’s paperwork to explain what type of service you would like (devotedly religious, secular, other).
  3. Write out your own obituary stating your accomplishments, your failures, the lessons you have learned, and keeping the focus on you and avoiding negative comments about others.
  4. Create a list of who you would and would not like to attend your funeral and include a list of the people you would like to give a eulogy.
  5. Leave copies of these documents with your attorney and trusted family members / friends.

Many of us are not celebrities, and it is unlikely that an officiant who doesn’t know us well will make a sweeping political commentary or societal diatribe during our funeral, but it does happen. And unless you are going to be sainted or have a holiday named after you, your funeral is your last “big day”, so put time into creating the proper start of your post-mortem existence.



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