That Time You Go--Lessons from a jazz funeral
“Time Hop” is a real bitch sometimes. The app intends to stir sentiment as we remember the baby we held this day last year or the person we hugged seven years ago — those priceless moments captured since we cozied up to social media. Sometimes, though, the sentiment weighs on us. Heavy by loss of time, nostalgia can haunt more than help.
My “On this Day” notification recently was of a jazz funeral that once passed my house en route to the cemetery in my neighborhood. It was an average Tuesday afternoon when the joyful exuberance of a brass band echoed down my street. I ran out of the door with my little boy in tow, whose hand was so small then that he couldn’t get his fingers all the way around my palm.
“Is it Mardi Gras, Mommy?” he asked.
“Someone’s going to Heaven,” I answered.
“Is this what happens when we go to Heaven?” he questioned. I could see the disconnect as his tiny brow furrowed.
“For some people,” I said.
Watching my phone screen, I was reminded of the unexpected concert on our corner, the curiosity of my young son, and how inspired I was by the mourners’ choice to celebrate their sorrow. Was this orchestrated by the dead? Or was it a spontaneous tribute? Will my end be met with celebration?
Eventually, we’re all startled by our own mortality. It’s not something that I like to dwell on, but it’s something that’s absolute. And on that afternoon I was humbled at how death delighted above us mere mortals. It was a grand finale, one that uplifted rather than depressed.
Don’t we all deserve such a coda – one perfectly choreographed with our individual story?
When I go I want a big party – the kind with laughter trimmed with all the sillies. Toast me! Roast me! Whatever. But keep the tears to tears from belly laughs. I’m guilty as charged of cracking jokes at inappropriate times and getting the giggles in times of seriousness. Give me my just desserts and laugh your ass off at my funeral bash.
Speaking of the bash, all diets are off that day. Consider the upswing in calories my final meddling. All cheeses will be present – fancy cheeses, Thunder Cheese (Shout out, Conseco’s!), nacho cheese. If the day itself is a cheesy exaggeration of grief, let’s go all the way. Next are tables of boiled crawfish, shrimp, and crabs. Absolutely crabs because they take longer to eat. Linger that day. Each meticulous search for crabmeat in the caverns of claws and shells represents another conversation, and I want that day to be gloriously gab-filled. Then there’s a big bowl of Twizzlers because sometimes you just need a taste of sugary wax. Add to that chocolate milk and Doritos. Everything that challenged my willpower should be enjoyed.
When I go I want music—everywhere. The songs should drip with reminiscence. Madonna will recall when we thought we were cool in grade school. Poke fun of flannel and combat boots from our grunge days with Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. Chuckle about my Foo Fighters obsession. Dave Matthews will bring everyone back to Jazz Fest sunburns shared. And dance. Yes, dance at my big bash, to Janet, Paula, and then all the Motown and funk that makes a dance floor worth pounding.
When I go, I want to accept it. Mostly, I want you to accept it. What better way for me to achieve that than by instigating the act of life moving on. Miss me, but don’t stand still.
I know enough to know that one day we all go. I’ve been awakened to that awareness recently. I hear a lot about seizing the day and living like it’s the last. But that doesn’t motivate me. I think it’s because, try as I might, I just can’t seize everything. I’m not strong enough for the super saintly power of appreciating everything all the time. What does motivate me is admitting that I need to do better in general. I need to return calls. I need to say thank you. I need to listen to my child’s recounting of a field trip. I need to keep lunch dates. I need to cherish my parents. I need to hug my husband when we’re passing ships in the night. I can seize the small things that write the bigger story.
I tell my children that when they smile they radiate their truth, that part of them that meanness, selfishness, anxiety, and all our human failures haven’t taken. I get so much wrong, but I hope I get this one thing right. When I go, I want to go in celebration of what I beg failure to never touch—laughter, love, and solidarity. When I go, I hope everyone smiles as proudly as the faces in that jazz funeral. It’s as if they knew a secret.
If you let go of the weight of my memory, I’ll be smiling with you.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.