The Moving and Memorable Funeral of Karen M. Gsteiger (b. 1976)

by Karen Gsteiger

Ed. note: No, this is not a cry for help.

One of the consequences of dealing with death at an early age, I have found, is a tendency to ruminate ceaselessly about mortality--one's own and everyone else's. It's not my intention to speak for the experience of others, but I suspect that young children who lose one or both parents learn very quickly and never forget that death can happen to anyone at any time; it does not always follow a predictable and orderly schedule that would be easier to accept (e.g., minor pets, such as goldfish, then distant relatives one has never met, then maybe more important pets, then perhaps very old and sick grandparents, etc.). Instead, life or nature or fate or [insert deity here] decides that one unusually bright January morning, you will wake up and--whoops!--you don't have a dad anymore. Then things start to get really interesting.

I'm not very often frightened by the prospect of my own death. Unless it's like 3 a.m., and I've worked all night on something dreadful, and I can't get to sleep. But it's weird sometimes to think, oh, one day I'm really going to know what it feels like to die. Assuming I have enough time or cognitive capacity or whatnot. Will I be relieved with this realization? Pissed off? Worried about all the errands I have not yet run? Sad to leave my friends and family behind? Or too curious about the cosmos and the afterlife to linger in this mortal shell? I ask these questions of myself, but the concept of being dead does not leave me panic-stricken. I figure that whether or not there's an afterlife, once I'm actually dead, I'm not going to care so much about this world and the season premieres I might be missing or the newest flavors of ice cream that I won't be able to try. I sometimes wonder what penalty I may have to pay for various spiritual transgressions I have committed and whether twelve years of Catholic school will be counted as time already served. But mostly I concern myself with my own funeral. It will be my last social event, and I want it to be just right, and I want there to be a shitload of people in attendance who have not seen each other for years, and I want them to say afterwards, "That really wasn't so bad."

So every now and then I think about what songs should be played and whom I would want to speak and what I would want them to say and how all this would change were my memorial service televised live on CNN. Unfortunately, it's not very helpful to the future organizers of my funeral (whoever they shall be) if I don't write any of this down. Therefore, I would like to offer up a list of suggestions (a wish-list for the future deceased, as it were). I know that, being dead, most of these things will be out of my control, but, friends and family and any and all possible future progeny, you can't say that I didn't tell you.

Location: I'm pretty flexible on this one. Funeral home, outdoor location (in nice weather), house of worship, whatever. I have a sneaking suspicion that we all may find ourselves in a Roman Catholic church as that is my family's religious persuasion, and that's fine, I guess, but there need to be some ground rules. If at all possible, I would like a female Episcopalian priest to perform at least part of the ceremony ("a priest chick" as my brother so sensitively and reverently refers to them). And can we, if possible, limit our references to the "Virgin" Mary? By all means invoke her (along with St. Lawrence; I've always appreciated the legend of his gallows humor at his own martyrdom), but I have always thought that constantly referring to her sexual status is a gross invasion of her privacy.

Songs: There is only one song that I care about, that must, must, must be played at my funeral, and I swear, if you people puss out on me, I'm going to haunt you in vaguely unpleasant ways (by breaking your eggs in the carton after you've already paid for them and are halfway home from the grocery store and encouraging your dog to pee on the new rug and setting your alarm clock to the loudest, harshest setting)--"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

I don't care if this means that someone is going to have to sing "Life's a piece of shit" in a church. Don't you dare puss out on me.

If you do wind up pussing out on me, then I suppose you could use the equally gleefully cynical, but "shit" free, "Galaxy Song."

If either of these masterpieces could be sung by a full choir, that would be pretty cool.

I also would like everyone at the funeral/memorial to exit to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy." Bonus points to the priest who recites the spoken introduction to the song.

The rest of the music could be conventional or could continue along the same lines--Mandy, the master of "War on Terror" mix tapes, would be just the woman for the job--please, just not "How Great Thou Art." (sorry, Mom!) God, I hate that song. Plus, singing "How Great Thou Art" at a funeral kind of seems like one is being sarcastic, and I won't have that. Don't blame God because I was wont to consuming aspartame and processed foods or because I constantly forgot to put on sunscreen or because I was too busy turning my car into a moving karaoke machine instead of paying attention to the road or because Paddy just had to start that brawl.

Remember that my funeral is an occasion to remember how great not to point fingers.

Speakers: Well, gosh, I guess it depends on how famous and celebrated I am at the time of my death. Any surviving Pythons, Lord of the Rings castmembers, David Sedaris, dignitaries, liberal U.S. Senators, political prisoners who were freed with my advocacy, formerly bitter literary rivals now tear-stained with regret, whatever.

Most importantly, I need anyone who has ever been secretly and madly in love with me to attest to this fact now.

George, your kind-hearted and flattering hyperboles would not be out of place on this occasion.

Also, Eric, it is vital that you come up with an elegy that alienates and offends. I know you can do it. Do it for me. I will smile as I dance on the head of a pin.

Food: My funeral luncheon will be an Iron Chef-style culinary tournament between two suitably trendy gourmet chefs. The secret ingredient: peanut butter. Bon appetit!

Flowers: In lieu of flowers, I would like several tiny, fussy little 300-year-old bonsais that my nearest and dearest can take home with them and be responsible for raising. No pressure!

In lieu of that, remember that I like daisies.


Nancy, I'm hoping that you'll use all of your MBA skills to pull this all off. I expect you to be ruthless with the hired help. I only get one funeral, after all!

Padraig, you are obviously in charge of costuming, choreography, and all animal performances. And I will be dead, so please direct all complaints to Mandy.

Sam, please make sure that everyone's clothes stay on.

Jen, you will sing in public.

Jinny, you will stick popcorn up your nose with your tongue at some point during the proceedings.

Dave, you dump her for a change.

I'll figure out the rest later; I'm only 28, after all. Plus, I don't want to bog everyone down with unexplained inside jokes. This isn't some damn Joyce novel.

Keep in mind too that after my death, I will try my best to be accessible via Ouija boards and email (keep an eye on the subject lines of your junk mail).

And as for my beloved and inestimable Matt, I hope that we will never have to be separated for any great length, but you already know where to find me if you need to.

The End...later on.