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Kent Bernhardt: My Funeral

I’ve been to far too many funerals lately.

Between relatives, family friends, and former classmates, I think I’ve attended at least a dozen funerals during the past year alone.  Far too many people I know are leaving this world, and it’s starting to get overwhelming.

Overwhelming, but not surprising.

As we age, it’s only natural that death and dying begins to play a greater role in our social lives.  This continues until that fateful day we go from being one of the attendees to the guest of honor.

Funerals are the primary way we deal with death and say goodbye.  They’re a very important part of the grieving process, and I suppose that’s why there’s so much pressure to make them so special.

I’ve been to moving funerals filled with a mixture of laughter and tears, and I’ve been to surprisingly impersonal funerals where deceased was barely mentioned.  I prefer the former.

When my father passed away last year, I wanted to speak.  It helped me to talk about dad, and since laughter had been such a large part of his life, I wanted to make sure laughter was present when we celebrated his life.

His pastor gave me a helping hand.  When I told the story of the time dad accidentally clobbered my sister in the forehead with a hammer, the pastor followed with “That explains a lot.”  Because he knew my family well, he took a chance and delivered the perfect funeral moment.

I’ve been thinking about my own funeral – not dwelling on it but thinking about it – and I’d like to make a few early requests.

First, in my written obituary, please just say that I died.  It’s simple and to the point.  Many obituaries use flowery language to state the obvious.

I’m OK with “He passed away”, but please don’t say that I “expired”.  A driver’s license expires.  A gallon of milk expires.  People don’t expire.

Also, don’t say that I “sprouted wings and flew home to be with Jesus”, or anything like that.  I know people mean well when they do that, but it’s a little over the top if you ask me.

Just use my regular name in the written obituary.  A lot of people throw in a nickname or two.  It’s all right if that’s the only way people knew you, but I’d prefer you leave it out of mine.

I don’t think it’s anybody’s business that for a while in junior high school one of my friends started calling me “Nature Boy”, and I certainly don’t want it in my obituary.  I also still don’t know why he called me that.

When it comes to the music at my funeral, sing what you like.  I have two personal favorite hymns that I like to sing, but since I won’t be in a singing mood, you are under no obligation to choose my favorite music.

I was at a funeral once where someone sang “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together”, the old Carol Burnett ending theme.  I actually thought that was a nice touch, and if you listen to the words, it’s appropriate.  In fact, go ahead and put that on my list.

I know funerals are serious business for most, but please feel free to laugh during mine.  There are a lot of goofy stories out there about me, and some of them are actually true.

Finally, I want no fighting over what I leave behind.  There should be enough leftover debts for everyone, and they can be distributed equally among all the attendees of my memorial service.

I close with the best funeral request I ever heard.  It comes from the late comedian Don Adams of “Get Smart” fame.

“When I die, I don’t want an elaborate, formal service with lots of flowers.  I just want a few of my closest friends to get together, join hands – and try to bring me back to life.”

Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury


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