By Dr. Tom Vaughan ’55, Dean Emritus
as previously published in Auburn Veterinarian, Summer 2009
As I write this, I am still alive. I won’t say well, nor even in my right mind since both sound a bit presumptuous for this time of life. But I am motivated, perhaps provoked is a better word, by having gone to too many funerals, and self-centered though this may sound, relating each of them to my own instance. Plus, I probably have more friends in the cemetery looking up than on the outside looking in.
Rudy Giuliani once said that his father told him that attendance at weddings was optional, but funerals were obligatory. I kind of agree with him, but I wonder if you don’t reach a limit. At any rate I feel compelled to jot down a few guidelines for when my own bones have to be interred.
Paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, which approximates a sacrilege in itself, I am a very ordinary layman of the United Methodist Church, not especially “high,” nor especially “low,” nor especially anything else. But out of respect for my wife and her family of six ordained ministers, as well as my own sainted mother and father, I assume a church service.
First comes the gathering music. Well, I like music, wake up in the morning with a tune in my head, and, to the consternation of Ethel and anyone within earshot, hum or whistle it the rest of the day. So, I have a list of hymns, old timers, that I’d leave to the judgment of Julia Morgan, who agreed a long time ago to play for my funeral. And I’d leave the singing to the congregation rather than a choir of angels or a soloist auditioning for the Met. What I’d really like is the original Goldsmith Singers, but they went the way with our grand old director Ernie Justice. Pity.
After the music would come the scripture readings and the eulogy. I’d leave the scriptures to Dr. Mathison with only one request that my mother gave me as a stripling:
Micah 6:8 ( the King James version of course )
“He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
As to the eulogy, I’d like mine to be short and understated to fit the subject. God forbid a serial eulogy, where the speakers try to outdo each other, and truth gets laid to rest with the bones. I’ve often thought it would be good training in seminary for the would-be young men of the cloth to read McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and maybe Balzac’s Old Goriot, so as to get a right frame of mind about crossing the bar. Dampen some of the dramatics, tone down the rhetoric. Ethel has talked about my lying in state when I know some of my acquaintances would twist it into a state of lying. Owing to my love of the sea, I’ve always thought of a burial at sea, quick and clean. My children all agree that would be most appropriate since I’d be right at home with all the other old crabs on the bottom. Cremation has also come up for consideration, but Ethel says that’s probably a moot point since I may be a candidate for incineration one way or the other.
And I wouldn’t want to put a guilt trip on all the other men in the congregation who hadn’t been perfect husbands or model fathers, or hadn’t had the preacher to dinner the first day he came to town, or entertained a lot of angels unawares. I mean, between making a living, paying your taxes, and taking out the garbage, there’s just so much of you to go around. I’ve even pinned some hopes on favorable judgment because I hadn’t disinherited any of our children … (yet). One of the many secretaries I worked for, who had a soap opera of her own, used to joke that there were two kinds of families: one who admitted they were dysfunctional, and the other who wrote Christmas letters.
Well, God bless, Ethel has suffered me for 53 years, which may be the principal legacy we leave our children, that and the knowledge that we will always be there when they need us. And that, my friends, is my last request, premature I hope, but unlikely to change.
As to the benediction, no better has ever been penned than the epitaph in Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:
Seek no further his merits to disclose
Or draw his secrets from their dread abode.
There they alike in trembling hope repose,
The bosom of his Father and his God.
Yr humbl & obdt svt,