It’s not that I’m morbid, but I am particular. The thought of my funeral as sterile, or worse yet a misrepresentation of me, is unacceptable. I remember one funeral in particular that failed to capture the beautiful life and spirit of the person we gathered to mourn. My grief felt like a gun shot wound and the funeral felt like someone rubbing salt into my wound. I know my friend would have wanted her funeral to be different, to be more reflective of who she was, but she didn’t get the chance to plan it since her death was unexpected.
I am 53 and in good health. I didn’t wake up and decide “Today I will plan my funeral.” But the book I am reading has brought me on two journeys – the author’s and my own. That book is Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono, lead singer of U2. U2, a rock and roll band, has been part of my whole adult life. Their Live Aid performance began our courtship. Their 1987 album The Joshua Tree solidified our relationship. I was a senior in high school when that album came out and I listened to it nearly every day for months. The lyrics and Bono’s obvious desire to connect – to others, to God – drew me in. The music that accompanied stirred and inspired me, and made me feel less alone.
Surrender is Bono’s account of his life and the life of U2 through 40 of their songs. His writing is thoughtful, self-aware, humorous at times, and vulnerable. I find myself remembering the details of my life as Bono recounts the details of his. I listen to With or Without and I am 18 again, feeling what I felt. But it doesn’t stop at my 18 year old self. I can feel my 38 year old self and my 53 year old self too. It is a remarkable experience to have a song grow with you.
Why U2, you ask? If there is someone who straddles brilliantly the messiness of this world with the other-worldly, I think it’s Bono. He is brutally honest and utterly hopeful for a better day and a healing love. He is unabashedly a Jesus follower without sounding irrelevant, exclusionary or judgmental. Sure, he’s a car salesman. But he’s an honest one. Surrender is the story of Bono’s faith, and I find myself revisiting my own story of faith.
All of the above somehow led me to think about my own funeral. (That’s normal, right?) It makes complete sense that my funeral would be structured around U2 songs. Not only do these songs capture aspects of my life, I admittedly love the idea of making people sit through them, especially my kids. But I don’t want to overdo it. I realize that even in death I could be a pain in the ass. So less is more and I think, and at least for now, four songs will do. I will leave the remainder of the planning to others. Maybe one more suggestion: I hope the service (or whatever) does not end not with a luncheon but rather a drunken fest and free Uber rides for all.
The playlist, to be played loudly in a great setting acoustically:
It was 1987, and I remember arguing with a friend. “It’s a great song!” I insisted. She disagreed. “Once you know the truth, you have found what you are looking for,” she stated emphatically. That wasn’t my experience then, and it still isn’t today. We get a taste of truth, an experience of truth, an encounter with truth. But as soon as we try to put that into words, we diminish it and sometimes lose it altogether. It’s not that we don’t try. But we recognize our limitations while declaring the beauty, the wonder, the mystery of the truth we have touched. Or maybe I should say, has touched us. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. And for awhile, I stopped trying. But I’m hopeful again that one day, in this world or the next, I just might find it.
Walk on; keep going; don’t give up – this has been the story of my life. Not with drudgery or despair, but with hope. Unadulterated and maybe completely stupid hope that I, or we, will get to somewhere good, somewhere right, somewhere healing, somewhere inspiring, maybe even somewhere like heaven. I remember listening to this one on repeat when a good friend was going through something excruciating. I didn’t play it for her. That would have felt assumptive. I played it for me, to help me as I sought to be of help to her. I return to this song regularly. Often I sing it for others. Sometimes I sing it for me. Walk on.
It took me awhile to learn that even when we carry someone, we can’t bring them to their place of healing. They have to do that journey themselves. It was hard to learn this, especially with those I love. And if I could’ve willed it differently, I would have. But it is crucial to learn this if we are going to continue our own journey. I had to learn how to be vulnerable and safe. I’m still learning that one. Love and boundaries. Love and heartache. Love and letting go. We can love and still choose to let go. It’s paradoxical which is maybe why it is so hard to learn. And we hold hope that someday, the person we love and had to let go of will hear the song we continue to sing for them in our hearts. This is a song for someone, and maybe they will someday have the ears to hear it.
This is the big finale. This is one of the songs I put on with my headphones, turn up loud, sing at full volume and usually cry big tears. There’s something bold about the idea of this song. I imagine some of you will dismiss it as being too sentimental. To my ears and my heart, it is a bridge between this broken world and a better one, our broken selves and our healed selves. The idea that love can change the world and can change me has gotten me through a lot of shit. And it keeps working. I’ve let go of some beliefs over the years. But love? Not even once was I tempted to let go of love. Love is bigger.
My vision and my invitation is for people to sing along loudly as they exit the gathered space. Get out and go eat too much and drink too much. Tell funny stories about me. Everyone, that is, except my kids. Not yet. You can join them soon. But first I have something just for you. And it may or may not involve a U2 song.