Over the weekend, I had the good fortune to see a film called "Get Low" starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek. The promo said it was about a man who has a dark past, and decides one day to hold his own funeral and invite anyone who's ever known him to eulogize or tell a story about him. All before he is actually dead, you see. First, let me say this was a wonderful film well-acted by the entire cast. An almost gentle film, with no vulgarity, sex and only one scene with a brief act of violence.
As I came away from the theater and many times thereafter, I thought about the story, eventually coming to the question: what would it be like to attend your own funeral, to hear what others had to say about you? The wondering continues to, what would I want them to say? Have I lived my life in such a manner that the mourners would have all good comments?
Whimsical, I began with: "She was an awesome writer." Ha! Why not? The standards follow, like "good wife and mother" "devoted daughter" "loving sister," etc.
"Charitable", "kind", "trustworthy", "hard working" all come to mind. But what of those niggling regrets? The "wish I hadn't"s and the "I'd just as soon forget I ever"s. Would I look around and see faces of people I'd hurt? Hear comments about injustices I'd committed? That driver I cut off on the 405 freeway that time?
How about the guy I didn't let into my apartment after he'd paid for dinner and a movie? He wasn't too happy about that. The employer who got angry when I left him for a better job. The 7th grade gym teacher who heard me making fun of her in the girls' locker room? (Cringing.)
We've all made mistakes, have regrets and wished for "do-overs" in our lives. It's those experiences that some of us, as writers, use to create the characters we love and hate. Jordan Kent, for example, has all kinds of regrets in CAPE SEDUCTION. He condemns his own weaknesses and lives with doubts and misgivings throughout his life. Rebecca Burke can't believe what she's done, the lengths she's gone to in order to gain access to the derelict Dragon Rock Lighthouse. But these very human missteps are what make characters vivid and believable.
What would your eulogy be like? Have you ever thought of writing your own?
Tomorrow, I’m at Beth Fish Reads, but you can view my entire itinerary at Beacon Street Books