CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: Notice — Funerals Are for Living People

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By W.T. WIMPY HIROTO

As seems to be the norm these days, CR2S attended yet another funeral. I’m sure a thought-provoking number would pop up if I counted how many this year – astonishment over the two year total. Even though conventional wisdom says public discussion of death and dying is a no-no, that onus makes it a perfect target for CR2S to become William Tell. And why not? I’m surely not the only one who notices the abundance of Nisei names in the L.A. Times obituary section these days.

[Which offers an opportunity to explain an apparent anomaly: The absence of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese names. This is because there is a humongous number of vernacular newspapers serving those communities, plus they do not subscribe to The Times or other English publications. It has nothing to do with their death rates.]

A reality that hit me between the ears is how lonesome it has become attending services nowadays. It comes as a surprise I don’t recognize many attendees, let alone remember by name. A strange admission from someone who has been involved with the community for so long, but a jarring reality. Simple fact of the matter is most of my friends and acquaintances are now deceased.

Other salient observations via the slanted eyes of CR2S: (a) Today’s funeral-goers are younger; (b) not all are Jappos; (c) services have been modified; and (d) are varied.

The *average age of the combined San/Yonsei generations drops in comparison to the Issei/Nisei duo of yore. [*Sometimes you can make assumptions that make a whole lot of sense but are not verifiable. I pass this one along to see if anyone shoots it down.] 

As far as the ethnic makeup of congregants is concerned, in the 1950s and ’60s they were obviously almost entirely Japanese. Today almost every family tree has a non-Japanese branch. At the most recent service I went to, the *outliers were probably in the majority. [*It’s not that CR2S is a yellow-neck. Often when there’s nothing better to do, I observe non-oldie whites who listen to the inevitable wartime/evacuation/concentration camp trilogy and wonder: How many are truly aware of what that all meant? And of course, when you’re in the elderly echelon, everyone would seem to be youthful, because they are.]   

As far as the (c) factor is concerned, services have been drastically shortened, the three-hour variety now past history; as is the Asian Task Force. In deference to an aging populace, evening rites are also a relic. Thank goodness, chop suey luncheons remain on the agenda, or catered food on premises if called for. 

The greatest change in tradition has been the growing popularity of memorials rather than soulful last rites. “Celebrations of Life” have replaced tears with cheers and testimonials are light and gay; with generations of family and friends reciting memories of the past, usually featuring grandchildren recalling nostalgic memories. My preference is a celebration where impromptu sorrow-less recitations make sure the deceased hasn’t magically become a saint and was without sin. 

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So, yeah, since the weeks and months are speeding by lickety-split, I catch myself thinking about what preparations and discussions should be made right about now.

I already have one of those prepackages, you know, the ultimate layaway plan. But nothing is set in stone, except the cemetery headstone that already has my name on it; the only info needed is etching in exact due date. I’m sure there’s an opt-out clause if a formal service is decided against.

Neptune is certainly not a consideration; even in death I’ll hate water. Spread ashes over some expanse via airplane? Naw, don’t think so. I get woozy in an elevator after the fifth floor. I’m certain I can depend on my sons to make it all happen in good stead and taste. They pretty well know the idiosyncrasies of Dear Ole Dad.

One thing for sure, whether held in hallowed hall or borrowed bar, Big Band music will prevail.  Most certainly Frank Sinatra’s version of Paul Anka’s “My Way.” A compilation of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Harry James and Artie Shaw instrumentals and ballads will be my psalms. And I will warn concentration camp adherents beforehand to be prepared to suffer in silence because any mention of Poston Unit One will be draped with teenage nostalgia that only WWII could conceive.    

Other specific particulars I’d better discuss with my guys pretty soon. Eulogies and histories are the usual norm, but quite honestly, don’t they seem so, you know, useless? I honestly can’t think of anyone qualified to give mine, except moi. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the posterior, taping one’s own eulogy! Don’t laugh, I’m thinking about having a camera in place to check on *who shows up and who doesn’t. [*Which reminds me of a deceased Nisei who compiled an invitation list of those who would be permitted to attend his funeral!] 

Anyway, people, I plan to fully enjoy the rest of my life. Everything is currently copacetic but CR2S would prefer not to be the last man standing, the last bottle of beer on the wall. And if Rev. Mark will allow, maybe “O” can (co-) preside?

W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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