On One Hand

July 6, 2006

Songs to Play at my Funeral

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 12:21 am

About a year before my uncle David died of complications of HIV, his best friend died of AIDS, and David planned the music for the funeral. I remember being at my grandparents’ house while David kneeled on the carpet in front of the entertainment center with CD cases spread on the floor around him. David’s usually cheerful and carefree demeanor had been cast over with a blanket of solemnity, and my parents and grandparents left David alone to do his work. I kneeled down beside David and talked to him while he picked songs. I don’t know what David’s relationship with his friend was – there are myraid things about my uncle’s secret life the family never found out – but I know that he was deeply effected by the tragedy.

When David died about a year later, my family used the same CD that David complied for his friend at David’s funeral. I still associate “Arms of the Angels” by Sarah Mclaughlin with death and mourning.

The moist poignant thing about the entire situation is that when David put together the music to remember the life and death of his friend, David had to know that he was next. No one else in the family was aware that David was dying – we didn’t know David had HIV until just before he fell into a coma he never awoke from – and David then faced death of a stigmatized and awful disease without the comfort of family. Death must have haunted David while he put the songs in order, imagining that someone would be doing that for him not long later.

Eleven months after David died, his sister’s only son, Clint, died suddenly in a car accident at age 21. Of the three people on my father’s side of my family younger than David, only my sister and I are left. Once again the same track of songs songs was played, in a non-denominational funeral that mimicked David’s almost exactly. The only difference between services was that at Clint’s funeral the coffin was left open; even after a car accident that crushed part of his head and killed him instantly, Clint’s body was in better shape than David’s, which, before he died, had suffered a sudden surge of virus and infections that made his relatively fit and healthy body waste away and expire in a matter of months so that our family thought it looked too gruesome to display.

I find the thought of picking my funeral songs to be comforting. To put one’s things in order while death approaches helps one make peace with the end. By compiling my own sound track I write an ending to my own story: for at least two hours my life will be reflected upon through the lens created by the music I pick. Is the tone going to melancholy? Bittersweet? Upbeat? That’s to be determined by me, while I myself reflect on my existence, what I thought of myself or of the whole world from the perspective of one human.

I’m starting a project where I’ll track down people my uncle knew: friends, lovers maybe, coworkers, and all sorts of people that were part of the secret life my family didn’t know about. I know that many of David’s friends have died of AIDS, and others might not talk, but that only adds to the intrigue. It’s not necessarily about David’s story, which is lost now; it’s about my own story of trying to find a piece of myself through a family member lost before I understood what it meant to live the life he did.



  1. Your stories are amazing..

    Comment by forsberg21 — July 6, 2006 @ 8:36 am | Reply

  2. I know that I don’t comment as much as I would like to, but I would like to say thank you for such a beautiful story.

    I have thought sparingly before about my own funeral and came to the conclusion that I would like it to be a collection of songs that my family and friends would organize on their own with the one exception that it would end with Neil Young’s “Keep on Rockin’ In a Free World.”

    And then I will fade into whatever eternity I find out to be the truth.

    Comment by timberwolves — July 6, 2006 @ 2:47 pm | Reply

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