“I didn’t want a celebration-of-life because I’m sad, and I want to be sad.”
– Duane “Dog” The Bounty Hunter eulogizing his wife.
Last weekend I attended Beth Chapman’s funeral. I needed a funeral to observe and report on for a class I am in, so I jumped at the chance to experience a public, Christian, B-list celebrity, bounty hunter funeral. When I found out it was being live streamed, I considered just watching it from home (shhh, don’t tell my teacher) but I was hesitant to skip it because I didn’t want to miss out on having the full experience of observing the attendees, and how they responded to ceremonial elements.
The real reason I decided to go, though, was that I’d watched an interview with Dog on ET, where he said that some of the film crew had been telling him to “man up” less than two weeks after his partner of thirty-years died from cancer. I was so irked, that I immediately purchased a copy of It’s Ok You’re Not Ok to gift to the family at the service. Along with the book was one of my favorite empathy cards from Emily McDowell’s collection, and a letter. At one point during the service I’d clutched the book tighter, thinking “god I hope he reads this” as shouts of “be strong” rang out during his honoring of his wife.
I’d arrived early to make sure I got a seat in what I’d hoped would be the back, but I ended up being sat only a handful of rows from the front. There were WGN camera men all about, and a camera arm swinging overhead. As is turns out, I was caught on camera three times during the service, twice laughing (at funny things,) and once while taking notes. A woman next to me had asked if I was a reporter. I answered no, though I suppose in all honesty I was.
There was a strong police presence. Signs outside the church along the roadside said “sinners welcome.” Fan girls (and boys) were seen snapping photos of people in the crowd. I did not see any selfies being taken, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and I can only imagine the corresponding hashtags. When the service started, and the Chapman family came out to be seated, there were cheers, photo flashes, and a standing ovation. I’ll admit, given the circumstances, that it was slightly cringe worthy. But, to be fair, the Chapman’s are clear that they like their celebrity and that they made the service public to allow fans to be a part of it.
Though I often use the term “funeral” as a catch all for any type of honoring of a life, a funeral typically implies the body is present, whereas a memorial or celebration-of-life is often held without a body, though an urn may be present. This particular celebration was taking place in Colorado, where Beth was from, but the Chapman family had already had an ash scattering in Hawaii during a paddle out (a mourning practice of paddling out into the ocean on surf boards to gather.) Dog confessed during his Colorado eulogy that he hadn’t been able to “let her go,” and so he’d staged the scattering, using ashes from his barbecue grill because “they look the same.” He’s still got her at home, and I don’t blame him one bit.
I deeply appreciated all the friends and family that spoke and the humor they brought to the affair. I loved that Beth’s friend Rainy called her “linguistically colorful.” As a crass, potty-mouth myself I appreciate that verbiage. I also welcomed the rawness of their grief, and their willingness to share their sorrow, in community. Nearly all of them apologized for their tears, which I hope they know wasn’t necessary. There is nothing to be sorry about when you’re sad your person’s died. And, call it what you will, celebration-of-life or not, there has got to be space for tears. Dog’s honoring of his wife was certainly raw. He talked about never having felt this way despite the deaths of his parents, and even a daughter. He said that if there’s a God that “he won’t let me live long without her.” Meaning, he wants to die to be with her. Wanting to die is a common occurrence in grief, and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about people’s safety in the face of it. Yes, we need to be cognizant, but please know that it is normal for people to express similar sentiments, and that often they just need to be heard.
I wasn’t sure how much (if at all) I would cry, though I took exactly four tissues when they passed a box of them around. Those who know me know I’m a cry baby in general (#sorrynotsorry) and I did use one tissue during the tribute video that played. In it, Beth is on camera saying “I made it to Mother’s Day, I made it to Easter…we are living every moment as much as we can, and trying to hit every milestone that we can…we’re gonna have fun, and love each other, and laugh all the way…and when it ends it ends.” Her last big milestone was getting to hold her new great-grandbaby. She cried with him in her dying arms. May we all live every day knowing that it could be our last. May we all live, and love, and laugh every chance we get, knowing it’ll all end someday. And, if we cry along the way, that’s ok, too.
Open letter dated 7/13/19
Dog and Family,
My heart is heavy for you. As you navigate life without your family’s matriarch, please be gentle with yourselves. Beth voiced concern back in 2017 that if she died you’d be a “ship with no captain.” You will certainly feel lost in the dark from time to time.
May you be each other’s beacons of love and light in dark times. Be each other’s lighthouse.
In Fight of Their Lives, Beth pleads, “be realistic” about what is going on.
Current reality being that Beth has left this earthly plane, and the void left in her absence is real. Be real. Be real about the anger and the hurt. Be real about the sorrow and despair. It will soften in time, but now is the time to honor all the waves of intensity over the next days, weeks, months, and yes, even years to come.
These last two years have been a roller coaster for you all, no doubt.
Dog, you told Beth after that first grueling surgery, to “take it one day at a time.” A wisdom that applies so very much now, too. One day at a time.
I hope many of you will read this book It’s Ok You’re Not Ok.
We live in a grief averse and grief illiterate culture. This is not a time to “man up.” This is a time to fall to your knees and let your tears flow into the earth. Raw. Ugly. Beautiful. It means you’ve loved.
It’s ok to not be ok right now. Your wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother is gone, and it hurts. Rightfully so.
“Grief is not a disorder, a disease, or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical, and spiritual necessity. It’s the price we pay for love. The only cure for grief, is to grieve.” -Earl Grollman