My daughter is unhappy with me. She feels it is improper to ask to have my funeral before I’m gone. But I’ve watched a lot of my friends kick the bucket, and I’ll tell you what. I want to hear all the nice things people have to say about me before I go.
I’m 86. My dearly departed husband left this earth when he was 72, 20 years ago. And I’m thankful everyday that I told him exactly the same thing that I said in his eulogy. Every night, before we went to sleep, I said, Earl, you’re the best damned thing to ever happen to me, and you better know it. And he’d say, Bethy, don’t I just. I think you’re the bees knees. And then I’d fall asleep in the crook of his arm, just like we were still two teenagers realizing how wonderful it is to spoon.
We were blessed with my daughter Effy late in life. We’d tried every which way to have kids, and it just hadn’t worked, so when I dried up, I thought I was going through the change. And then I thought I was getting fat. And then Earl said, boy Bethy, I don’t want to upset you, but something seems to be going on with your body. Your boobs are three times the size they used to be.
So I took myself down to the doctor in Constance, the great brown Chevy pick up truck we had at the time, and sure enough he tells me, Bethany Dillon, you are with child. And was Earl ever surprised. Lord love him, that man went out that night and bought me a jar of pickles the size of which I’d never seen before or since. He built a crib out in the garage, the prettiest little crib I ever have seen. And when Effy was born, all howly and wrinkled, he tenderly tied a pink bonnet on her head and rocked her to sleep in that crib. I still have that thing somewhere up in the attic. I’m ready to throw it all out though; people buy their cribs these days. With safety stickers and white plastic bits. Nothing’s solid anymore.
Effy’s children, all six of them, are nearly proper grown anyway. Teddy, Tommy, Jane, Susan, Lil, and Bastian. I don’t know where the name Bastian came from, she had a nice string of normal names. That one took us all by surprise. But sure if I don’t dote on that boy. He’s 14 now, and the spitting image of Earl that was. Breaks my heart that Earl never got to meet him. Teddy just got married. He found a nice Jewish girl, Rachel. He thought I might mind on that, but I told him, honey, I don’t ever hate about love, and neither does God. I promise you that. Sure if my grandkids come home with nice people, I don’t care who they are or what they look like. I’m pretty liberal, I think. I like that Obama character.
So anyway, like I was saying, Effy thinks wanting to have my funeral service is morbid but I don’t care. She said she’d have a birthday party for my 87th instead, but I’ll tell you what, the flowers you get at a funeral top out birthday flowers every time. And no one gives speeches about you when it’s your birthday. You do get cake though, which is nice. Maybe I’ll ask for cake anyway. I like a good vanilla cake with a custard in the middle. Something soft. My teeth aren’t so good these days.
I’m grateful Effy puts up with me, I truly am. She’s humoring me in this one, despite her misgivings, and I’m prepared for a pretty great event, if I do say so. We’ve invited all of my neighbors; my brother John who’s still with us and thinks it’s a hoot; all my nieces and nephews; and all of the girls I served with in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps who are still with us today. I loved those women like sisters. Those of us that are still kicking around send each other Christmas cards every year. They were a great comfort when my Earl went. And then of course there’s my best friend May-belle, who said it was the best party she’d ever heard of and she was glad she wouldn’t have to cry at my funeral. The two of us are thick as thieves, they say. I want to go first, because there’s no way I’d make it through a service for her with any of my dignity intact and boy wouldn’t she be laughing at my blubbering from heaven.
I’ve carefully chosen the songs. People usually have hymns, but at my funeral they’re going to sing We’re A Couple of Swells from Easter Parade, because Earl and I must have seen that movie 1,000 times. He loved that Judy Garland. Thought I looked just like her. And then they’re going to sing Pete Seeger’s Turn Turn Turn, which I think is one of the most beautiful songs that ever existed. I remember hearing it for the first time on an LP that Earl brought home, and just crying like it was written special for me.
See, here’s what no one else knows. I found out two months ago that I’ve got cancer in my stomach. One hell of a way to go if you ask me. So if I’ve got to go, I’m going out with style. I’m not gonna be robbed of my dignity. And so at my funeral, everyone’s gonna remember the me I was before I get burned up by this and lose my hair and my tastebuds. And I’m gonna damn well hear the nice things they planned to say about me after I was gone anyway. I’m gonna sit in a big old fancy chair surrounded by a whole heaping pile of the prettiest flowers you can get, and I’m gonna sing along to all the songs.
And when everyone’s had their say, I’m gonna get up and say two things. First I’m going to tell everyone in that room how much I love them and how much they meant to me. And then I’m going to tell them to go home and make sure they tell the people they love how much they love them. Every damn day. For the rest of their lives.
Because I know that when I go, and the doctor promised me it would be real soon, Earl will be up there waiting for me, and I’ll lay down next to him in the crook of his arm just like old times. And I’ll say, Earl, you’re the best damned thing to ever happen to me, and you better know it. Because at the end of my time on this earth, don’t I know that’s the truth.
And he’ll say, Bethy, don’t I just. I think you’re the bees knees.