Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Great Funeral

Our family, being Lebowskis
A few months ago, after the passing of a friend for whom there was no plan for funeral arrangements, my husband and I had the Big Talk about how we would want things to go should one of us shuffle off this mortal coil.  Between us we've endured several bouts of cancer, a heart attack and the assorted atrocities of growing older. We've seen good friends, super specimens of vitality, succumb to illnesses and death. We've been to funerals that seemed to have nothing much to do with the departed soul as we knew them. We know what we don't want to happen. So we decided we needed a plan.
     "I want a big party with lots of laughing, dancing, and fun for my send-off," I said.
     "I would like for my kids to be together, all in one place, to celebrate my life," Michael said.
The Dude (Michael), Susan (my co-conspiritor) and Walter (Rocky)
     Then, we thought: What are we waiting for? Let's do this thing now. Let's celebrate our lives with the people who mean the very most to us. Let's do it now, while we still have our dancing feet in gear. And so the Smoky Mountain family retreat was conceived.
     We decided on a rental house in Bryson City, North Carolina, a place special to Michael and me. When he was a child Michael's family vacationed in the Smoky Mountains. We'd gone there for our honeymoon. It was much easier for our kids to access Bryson City than Key West. Through VRBO (vacation rental by owner) we found a big house, on the side of a mountain, and after much investigation, found it to be the perfect setting for our party.
We love the Dude!!
     Michael's birthday is in August, and so the kids and I decided to stage a party for that, and for him. His favorite movie is The Big Lebowski. Oldest daughter Susan and I decided on a Big Lebowski-themed party, which set off weeks of hushed telephone planning sessions, and many visits to thrift shops for plaid shorts and baggy bathrobes with hanging belts. Youngest daughter Meredith created "In and Out Burger" wrappers for the hamburgers we would serve at the party. Miguel, our son, downloaded the entire musical score of the film on my iPod. On our way out the door I grabbed The Big Lebowski DVD and threw it into my suitcase. Everyone, from the Dude himself (Michael) to our 5-year-old grandson arrived packing a robe and plaid shorts. Everyone had been instructed to watch The Big Lebowski and be ready for speaking in nothing but quotes from the film.
The Dude abides
     A few days before leaving Key West for the mountains, Michael, the guy who would rather have a root canal than endure a surprise birthday party, said: "You're up to something."
   "What could we possibly be up to?" I said. "Do you imagine we would set up "Michael Keith—This is Your Life" in the heart of the Smoky Mountains?? Shut the F--- up, Donnie!" (It's a line from the movie.)
Costume for the Big Lebowski party
     By the weekend, we had assembled in that house on the mountain all four of our kids, my brother Rocky (our fifth kid), all four grandkids, and a plan for a Saturday night cook-out featuring In and Out Burgers, and music from The Big Lebowski. While Michael sat outside, innocently communing with nature, we all slipped into our Lebowski costumes. Then we hit the button on the iPod player and called Michael into the house and handed him a White Russian, the Dude's favorite drink. We got him. He was surprised. But since our guests were all family, he was not horrified, but rather, very amused. We had a ball eating, dancing, and trying to not say the F word, so integral to The Big Lebowski script, in front of the kids. Sometime in the middle of that night, while we Lebowski fans slept, some creature came onto the porch, knocked over a trash can, pawed through our greasy In and Out Burger wrappers, and apparently attempted to eat a football. The ball, which my son-in-law said was made of finest pigskin, was punctured and deflated. Wow!
Partying at our own funeral
     Now we're back home, remembering our nine days in the mountains. Many times we've gone over again and again the many events, days and nights, and funny moments we experienced on that special vacation. We've marveled at the miracle of somehow assembling each and every one of our kids and their kids together.  Michael says it was one of the best times he ever had with his kids.
     "It really was a great funeral, wasn't it?" he says.


  1. June, this was very sweet and touched my heart. We all should have our funerals whilst still here so we can be reminded how very precious life is. Brenda

  2. The dude abides. All us dudes, actually.

  3. I especially loved how the rug tied the room together!

    Such a great time with the greatest people!! We'll never forget it.

  4. What a wonderful way to gather family and wrap them in memories! As a dear friend of Susan's, I heard what love went into planning this surprise and was so happy to hear you pulled it off without a hitch! Congrats on a job well done! Vicki


    R. Watherwax