August 22, 2016
One thing about growing up Boston-Irish is that you are not a stranger to funeral homes. When I smell an abundant amount of flowers, I think of funeral homes. My Uncle Peter (my father’s brother) used to refer to the obituaries as the “Irish Sports Pages.” My father always said that his father, my Grandpa Sullivan, had impressed upon him that when someone dies, you must pay your respects. Unfortunately through the years my family has lost three grandparents, two uncles (including Uncle Peter) and many great-aunts, uncles and friends. And each time someone died, you paid your respects by attending the wake and the funeral.
Given our ages, Bryon and I did not discuss funerals in great detail except for a two day period where we attended the funeral of a close friend’s father on one day and the funeral of his best friend’s grandfather on the next day. Bryon was always a party planner. When we were planning our wedding Bryon was not the stereotypically passive groom. He was not only involved in the whole process, but he pretty much organized the whole day. He asked for my input and what I liked and factored that in. So it didn’t phase me when he started making notes for his funeral. I told him to write it all down but he never did. I had to rely on my memory because who plans on dying when they are 30?
My two friends that were with me the previous day (My daughter’s Godmother and her significant other) picked me up midmorning and the three of us drove to the funeral home. We were all completely exhausted and still didn’t know what had hit us. We just knew that we had to plan the best farewell party for Bryon. A farewell party that would be legendary.
I went into the funeral planning process with four major points: Top Gun had to be playing on loop during the wake, St Francis had to be the featured saint when it came to prayer cards and hymns, his best friend had to say a eulogy and it had to be better than his Best Man speech at our wedding and we had to have an open bar reception after the funeral Mass.
At the funeral home we were greeted by the smell of flowers and the undertaker named Nick. Over the course of the next couple of days, we would start referring to him as Funeral Nick in our conversations because we kept confusing him with our friend Nick. Funeral Nick had a last name but I was too exhausted to remember it. (Funeral Nick, if for some reason you are reading this, I hope you aren’t offended. You did a phenomenal job.) Funeral Nick brought us into a conference room, gave us some bottled water and presented us with a binder that was full of funeral planning options.
Over the next several hours, we discussed many of the funeral details. We had to decide if we wanted a Thursday wake with a Friday funeral or a Friday wake with a Saturday funeral. We had many people travelling from out of town, some as far away as Florida and Chicago so we opted for a Friday wake with a Saturday funeral. We discussed the logistics of transporting his body from New York City back to Albany. We discussed the transportation to the church, cemetery, and the bar that the reception would be held. We chose the flowers. We decided how many pallbearers to have. We decided that obituary would be published in the local paper, The Times Union and his hometown paper, The Saratogian. We couldn’t have Top Gun playing and a photo slideshow. We decided that Top Gun was more important so we decided to have photo boards lining the room. We picked out the sign in guest book and prayer cards. I poured over the binder, making my choices. I would stop and ask my friends for their input. The three of us had a good idea on what Bryon would have liked.
Then it was time to pick out the casket. Funeral Nick showed all my options on a projector. I felt like I had just been kicked in the stomach. I was picking out the box that was going to hold Bryon’s bodily remains forever. Bryon’s body was going to go into this box and this box was going to be buried underground forever. This was and continues to be the most surreal moment of my life.
Bryon’s law partner (and close friend and Godfather to our daughter) showed up at the funeral home and it took the four of us, plus Funeral Nick to write his obituary. I have spent many times looking at obituaries for my job and as part of my genealogy research. I knew that these words were to sum up his life. How we portrayed Bryon in the obituary would be set in stone for the rest of history. This would be the document that our daughter and her children and grandchildren will read to try to learn about the person Bryon was. We had the responsibility to choose these words carefully. We spent at least an hour making sure everything was worded properly and that we include all aspects of his life. We finally had a piece that we were satisfied with and it was immediately published on the funeral home’s website and sent it to the newspapers.
We left the funeral home in the middle of the afternoon. We knew we had another important task the next day. We would be picking out the cemetery plot.