(Here they are, Archie and Edith from “All in the Family,” courtesy of Creative Commons.)
Just saw an old episode of TV’s “All in the Family” where Edith goes to a wake and she’s chatting away with the deceased woman lying in the casket. She can do that, for she’s the only one in attendance.
After a while, Archie joins her there, and he mistakenly thinks everyone else has gone home. Edith sobs into his shoulder, while he comforts her, asking: “Are you the last one here?” to which Edith fumbles for the answer, in between sobs: “Oh, Archie…I’m the only one.”
Then, she adds: “Oh, I hope when my time arrives, people come.”
At that point, Archie adds the comedic line, whereby the pall is lifted (sorry, but I couldn’t help) as he pats Edith on the back, following up with “Edith…Don’t worry…when your time comes, they’ll be coming from all over …the island…Brooklyn… Joisey…and don’t forget: I’ll be there, too.” He then adds the funnier: “That’s why I always treat people nice (that brings forth the quizzical look on Edith), so that when the time comes, they’ll have nice thoughts about me.”
Archie’s obviously forgotten two salient points: (1) Men generally predecease their wives and (2) He never treats people ‘nice.’
But if “How many will go to someone’s wake?” is the main theme of this episode of “All in the Family,“ it’s a background concern that we’ve all thought of — if we’re honest. We’ve been to funerals for dignitaries whose positions mandate their employees attend; we’ve paid respects to the family of folks we worked side by side with, for years; we’ve grudgingly attended those of relatives we owe some kind of obligation to, whether we liked them or not.
We’ve been to those, too, whose only attendees were immediate family.
We often weigh a person’s mark on this world by how many attend his or her funeral. It’s a sign of how well or poorly they were regarded….even if, as in many other things in this life, that public display is hardly accurate (note how I’m protecting myself from future low attendance at mine).
What were the heavily-attended wakes I’ve been to? One for a 4 year old child who died from smoke inhalation during a fire at her home. She was beautiful, lying there, in her all white casket, blonde ringlets fanned across a satin pillow, but it profoundly disturbed me–this robbing a young child of what we all take for granted, making it plain ‘There‘s no real justice.’
I’d never have gone to that wake if I hadn’t known her aunt so well or if I knew, too, there‘d be an open casket. The line of attendees snaked around the funeral home twice, but looking at that young child in a coffin stayed with me forever. I wasn’t alone in this. People were upset across the board.
I’ve been to two funerals for young adults, too, that similarly struck a chord. Young people poised at the brink of life, ready to embark on their own journey. One died from a completely cruel disease that struck with a savage speed, while another took his own life. The ranks of attendees swelled as all attempted to process the aberrations of this life, as in “Why are some culled from the ranks too soon?” or “Why couldn’t he just hang on to discover ‘Life will get better’?”
Who else garnered heavy attendance? Politicos of every persuasion who finally appear to come together at this last hurrah for the funeral of one of their own–a form of professional courtesy (they‘re like the Mob that way).
Who often brings in the fewest? Oh, it’s not the bad guys of this world, for true to human nature, human curiosity means they bring in sizable crowds, too, if for no other reason than “Is she finally dead?” or “The world will be a better place with him gone.”
Those who command the fewest in attendance are often those who’ve lived the longest. For quite honestly, almost none of their peers still remain. They’re the long-distance runners in the pack.
In this writer’s humble opinion, “How many will be at your wake?“ shouldn’t be the question. Rather, if one has profoundly impacted even one person–in a positive way–then maybe he’s achieved more than any of the dignitaries, the high potentates…
That’s never something proven by numbers of folks in attendance.
***The question is: How do you think you’ll be remembered?
***Here’s how I hope a friend remembers me–as one with a sense of humor: This scarecrow adorns a recent grave in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, proving: Death can’t stop a ‘shared laugh’ between friends.