When I leave the world behind

I’m an obituary aficionado. I appreciate how a thoughtful, well-written obituary presents a life, a legacy, in a nutshell: abbreviated family tree, work history, accomplishments, hobbies, talents. I prefer obits with a little personality, like the one I clipped out that included the line, “She baked a hell of a brownie.” I’ve made a start on my own obituary. My husband—and just about every other person I’ve mentioned it to—finds that strange.

It’s a short step from writing your own obituary to planning your funeral, or leaving explicit instructions that you don’t want one. Some of you might recall my post about playing the piano at a memorial service for Walt, a dear listener who passed away in summer of 2013. Walt planned that service himself, a comforting gift to his two daughters, who knew exactly how to carry out his wishes for a final goodbye. At the memorial, Walt’s voice teacher sang “Goin’ Home,” a spiritual adapted from Dvorak’s New World Symphony. I accompanied on piano. Not a dry eye in the place.

Another listener, Ted, asked me recently if I would play “Goin’ Home” again. It seemed a fitting request for fall, when—after a brief riot of color—leaves complete their life cycle and fall to the ground, leaving the Midwest brown and barren.

heart leaf


I hunted around for a piano solo version of “Goin’ Home” to satisfy Ted’s request, and found one in a book called, appropriately, Going Home: 75 Songs for Funerals, Memorial Services and Life Celebrations. It contains standard hymns like “Rock of Ages” and “Amazing Grace,” as well as modern pieces I wouldn’t have thought of, like “You’ll Be in My Heart” by Phil Collins.

Co-operative Funeralcare in the U.K. tracks funeral music requests. They’ve found that popular songs are edging out hymns at memorial services. Here are the top ten funeral songs revealed by their survey (the favored vocalist is often British, given the audience they polled):

  • “My Way” (Frank Sinatra)
  • “Time to Say Goodbye” (Sarah Brightman/Andrea Bocelli)
  • “Wind Beneath My Wings” (Bette Midler)
  • “Over the Rainbow” – (Eva Cassidy)
  • “Angels” (Robbie Williams)
  • “You Raise Me Up” – (Irish band Westlife)
  • “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (Gerry and the Pacemakers)
  • “We’ll Meet Again” (Vera Lynn)
  • “My Heart Will Go On” (Celine Dion)
  • “Unforgettable” (Nat King Cole)

And here are a few other bygone popular songs I think might fit well at funeral services:

  • The World War II ballad “I’ll Be Seeing You”
  • “Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye,” another WWII-era song
  • Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?”
  • “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables
  • “What a Wonderful World,” first recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1967
  • Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” written after his 4-year-old son died
  • “Smile (When Your Heart Is Aching),” theme from the 1936 Charlie Chaplin movie Modern Times

I’ve heard of funerals that end with “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

But for the most unsentimental among us, there’s this suggestion from a drummer friend: the 1993 country tune “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die).”

Copyright © 2014 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Music and emotion, Music programming, Song requests, Volunteering and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to When I leave the world behind

  1. Judie says:

    I’d like When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. I want to be remembered with smiles.

  2. June ritchie says:

    I think I would pick the song one of your friends suggested in another blog. How can I miss you if you won’t go away!! Lol

  3. June ritchie says:

    Judie, don’t you remember they played that at moms service and there wasn’t a dry eye in the church!?

  4. Riff Noggin says:

    From the perspective of the departed, wishing happiness and love to the not-yet-departed: Joni Mitchell’s “My Best To You,” from her Taming the Tiger album. Then maybe exit to Sly and the Family Stone, “Everybody Is A Star.”

  5. Jessa says:

    I was just thinking about this on my drive back to Grandpa’s last night. I want “I’ll be missing you” (the Puff Daddy and Faith Evans version) to play, haha. It was covered as a tribute for the Notorious BIG when he died. Just call me the Notorious JES. Lol! And maybe follow that up with some bagpipes. 😉

  6. Aunt Evie says:

    You will probably get the duty of writing Madelyn’s obit, tho I wouldn’t be surprised if she hadn’t made at least a rough draft. Love, Aunt Evie

Anything you'd like to add?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s