I planned my funeral when I was a child. I know how that sounds. It’s not like that. It wasn’t a practice in suicidal contemplation. I’m not eager for it, I just know how I want it to go down. In fact, I think it’s something everybody should do. It’s always brought me peace.
My perfect ending is my final self-expression. In my coffin, they’ll wrap my fingers around the hilt of a sword so that the blade runs down my body. Along my sides, they’ll place rows of my favorite books, those little portals to fantasy worlds, impetuses to adventures, and curators of philosophical breakthroughs that I enjoyed so much when I was alive.
The sword and the books were, as a child, and still to this day, the most accurate and tangible reflections of my soul. I am a childish, optimistic, and extremely nostalgic creature, who has based his moral code off the books of his youth. Robin Hood has a special place in my heart, and Aslan, to give you an idea. I believe in knightly virtues, chivalry, honor, and selfless service (whether I practice or uphold them is beside the point). I believe in opening a door for a woman, giving up your seat, giving up your jacket. I recognize and understand that it’s not necessary, that women are very rarely the damsels in distress I so love to see my heroes save in books and films. What they were, and were not capable of was never the point, was it?
For anybody who still thinks planning my funeral as a child may have been a red flag, a warning sign for the person I would become, an inkling of whatever darkness lives inside of me, let me convince you you’re wrong. Yes, of course, there is darkness, and there were probably many warnings in that era of my life, but this was not one. The funeral I planned was my way of reconciling with the fact that I was only going to have one shot at this. There are no revivals like there are in my favorite video games, and I had to find a way to come to grips with that. So, I thought about it like a story. Beginning, middle, end. I considered myself, in elementary school, to be in the beginning still. It occurred to me quickly that I had no way of knowing how this story would play out. That middle part was daunting, to say the least. I moved on, looking for a place in the outline that I might have any semblance of control over. I thought, if I could venture to control just one small part of this story, it would be my end. It would be my funeral. Not how it ended, but how that end was celebrated or mourned.
Yes, ok, it’s a little morbid. I’ll give you that. But for me it’s comforting, beautiful, and, in all honesty, kind of funny. Everything needs an ending. Think about your favorite TV shows for a second. Think about the ones that ended well, that made you feel something. If they did it right, you probably felt a sense of fulfillment, everything came full circle. Everything ended the way it was supposed to, even if it wasn’t exactly how you wanted it. You also probably felt, if you get as invested as I do, a profound sense of grief. Those characters, places, and storylines have ended, and you’ll never see them again. It sucks. Maybe I feel it deeper than most people, but I can’t be the only one.
Without fail, that feeling of grief after finishing a show diminishes. Sometimes it lingers longer than others, but it proves time and time again to be short-lived. There is an alternative feeling though, and another option to complete my metaphor: That show that never ends. You know the one. You loved it when it first started, you loved it up until seasons three, five, eight. After the story should have ended six times, there are so many new characters and actors that it’s almost unrecognizable from the original piece of art that you enjoyed. Wouldn’t it be better if they just wrapped it up; found a good place to tie everything together, to actually complete storylines rather than introduce more problems to confuse and drag them on? Everything needs an ending, no matter how hard it is to see it or them go. Everything is better when it ends.
I am not religious. Maybe you’ve guessed that if you’ve read this far, but I am not a pessimist or a nihilist or, if I may be so bold as to assert, any other of the bad “ists.” I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I believe in the beauty of this one. I believe in the power of stories, and what story is greater than one which has a clear beginning, middle, and end? I think people are getting this whole funeral thing wrong. I think people are giving death too much credit. Let your death be another expression of your personality, like that tattoo you got on your arm, that poster you hung on your wall in high school.
If you believe in an afterlife, maybe this won’t mean as much to you. Who cares about the funeral if you’re looking forward to eternity, right? For you others, those who are doubtful, those who have trepidations about death, give it a shot, try to imagine a ceremony of your own making, catered to who you were. I really believe that it can be a helpful thought experiment. Maybe it can give you some peace about the impending, ever-encroaching thing we call death. It’s coming for us all. But hey, think about it, or bury that thought with all of the other fears you never face. Either way, it’s your funeral.
Reece Caven is an English and Creative Writing major at the University of Iowa, as well as a member of the Iowa National Guard. He enjoys fishing, playing video games, and reading in his free time.