Music links us humans,
heart to heart.
Across time and space,
and life and death.”
One of my favorite questions to ask in order to start a conversation about funeral wishes is, “What song(s) would you like played at your funeral?” I’m always pleasantly surprised by how quick people are to respond, meaning, they’ve thought about it. The variety of answers that I get doesn’t disappoint.
I spend my Friday mornings networking with a hundred other business folks. I’m not the only BNI member on scene that speaks to the importance of planning for death. We have an estate attorney, and a life insurance broker in our ranks, after all. We even have a jeweler whose tagline is “Life’s too short to wear ordinary jewelry,” whom I recently learned handcrafts custom memorial pieces. All this to say that death was on the radar, on the regular, before I began touting the value of home funerals, celebrants, and end-of-life doulas.
Last week, I asked members to jot down a song they’d like played at their funeral. About half the group participated, offering much diversity in their answers, which spanned genres of music ranging from gospel and funk, to jazz and punk. From country and pop, to metal and rock.
I was introduced to songs I’d never heard before, and reminisced about others. Some are foot tapping, hand clapping tunes. Others are reverent and somber. All have value. And, boy, did they pique my curiosity. Why this song? What’s the back story? Is it simply a favorite? Is it their anthem? What’s the song saying, on the to-be departed’s behalf?
Is it saying, “I lived,” “I know it hurts,” “I’ll miss you,” or, “What a ride?”
Is it saying, “I’m ok,” “You matter,” or, “Remember me?”
A few people noted their reasoning, one person having said “it reminds me of family,” and another asking for “a Disney song, because I’m young at heart.” For the sake of the playlist that follows, I couldn’t help but pick “Hakuna Matata” on their behalf. It means no worries.
We can convey so much with music, can’t we? In life, and in death. Music is cathartic. It sets the tone. It tells the story. It moves us literally, and figuratively. Do we want something fun loving and free spirited at our funeral? Or, perhaps something solemn, that allows for retrospect? How about a little bit of both?
We played Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” at my brother Robert’s memorial, so I smiled when I saw that someone at BNI wants that, too. I don’t know what my brother would have wanted because he never had a chance to tell us, but I like to think he’d have approved of the playlist. That being said, it’s so special when we do know what to play for someone, per their request.
We played “Homeward Bound” for my mother-in-law knowing that she’d requested something from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. My mother (still living) has requested Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind.” I myself have always loved Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and have imagined it being played at my funeral, ever since I was a teenager. I also love Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Further on Up the Road,” but William Elliot Whitmore’s song “Everything Gets Gone” tops my list… “We’re just here for a little while…everything gets gone.”
While I recommend limiting the number of songs played during a ceremony to no more than two or three, a reception playlist can incorporate lots of other music, so you better believe I’ve got a hearty bunch of others lined up!
How about you? What do you want played at your funeral, and why? Do you know what your loved ones would like played at theirs?
Several people in the BNI bunch requested “Amazing Grace.” It really is a tried and true staple for many! I don’t think I’ve ever not cried when I hear it played on bagpipes. How sweet the sound.
Some requests are clear calls to action around themes of living life to the fullest, exercising radical acceptance, not harboring resentment, and being kind to others.
Some are love stories. Some are quite literally about saying goodbye. Some are just damn fun.
There’s such richness and depth in lyrics like…
“The love you give is the love you get.” -Black Eyed Peas
“Have faith in you and the things you do.” -Sister Sledge
“For what it’s worth it was worth all the while.” -Green Day
“With every broken bone, I swear I lived.” -One Republic
“When my body won’t hold me anymore, and it finally lets me free, will I be ready? When my feet won’t walk another mile, and my lips give their last kiss goodbye, will my hands be steady?” -Avett Borthers
“Now I’m old and feeling gray. I don’t know what’s left to say. About this life I’m willing to leave. I lived it full and I lived it well. There’s many tales I’ve lived to tell. I’m ready now. I’m ready now. I’m ready now to fly from the highest wing. I had a dream.” -Priscilla Ann
“To all my friends present, past and beyond, especially those who weren’t with us too long, life is the most precious thing you can lose.” -Pennywise
“A heart that’s broke is a heart that loved.” -Ed Sheeran
I’m grateful to everyone who shared with me. I hope they will, in turn, share with those who can make these songs happen, in their absence.
Full playlist available here on YouTube
“Amazing Grace” by (not specified)
“I Lived” by OneRepublic
“We Are Family” by Sister Sledge
“Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones
“Open Casket” by Death
“Ain’t No Grave” by Johnny Cash
“Call of the Wild” by Chris Ledoux
“Almost Anything” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
“Everything Counts” by Depeche Mode
“Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica
“Sounds of Silence” by Disturbed
“Good Riddance” (Time of your Life) by Green Day
“Dream” by Priscilla Ann
“Orange Sky” by Alexi Murdoch
“Home” by Edward Sharp & The Magnetic Zeros
“La Chanson de Claudine” by Mason Williams
“Be Nice” by Black Eyed Peas
“Fred Bear” by Ted Nugent
“Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel
“I’ll Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie
“Thunderstruck” by ACDC
“Home Sweet Home” by Motley Crue
“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
“When God Ran” by Phillips, Craig & Dean
“Celebration” by Kool & the Gang
“Jet Fuel” by Mac Miller
“Life During War Times” by The Talking Heads
“Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga
“Record Year” by Eric Church
“It’s Your World Now” by The Eagles
“Way of the World” by Earth, Wind, & Fire
“Truckin” by The Grateful Dead
“Kick Start My Heart” by Motley Crue
“Still Remains” by Stone Temple Pilots
“Time to Say Goodbye” by Sarah Brightman
“She’s Alright” by Muddy Waters
“No Hard Feelings” by The Avett Brothers
New Orleans Jazz by “anyone”
“Hakuna Mata” from Disney’s The Lion King
“The Way We Were” by Barbara Streisand
“Because You Loved Me” by Celion Dion
“Sunshine On My Shoulders” by John Denver
“Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury
“Blue Rondo a la Turk” by Dave Brubeck
“On Eagles Wings” by (not specified)
“Bro Hymn” by Pennywise
“The Great Gate at Kiev” by Mussorgsky
“Wind Beneath My Wings” by (not specified)
“Keep on Truckin” by (not specified)
“Supermarket Flowers” by Ed Sheeran
NICE LY DONE!
Hi Tawnya, what a beautiful blog. This speaks to me as someone who loves to write music that speaks to the soul. I once considered marketing to provide music for funerals but soon found out that it’s such a personal space that playing music that the departed loved is way more powerful than having a stranger sing about loss. Yes, music brings comfort to the hearts of those who are experiencing loss. Thank-you for being sensitive to this often overlooked detail that can make the difference for family and friends who are grieving. Personally, I believe that the departed knows exactly what’s going on at their funeral. What a way to connect to the other side by playing the music they love!!
Thank you Swara! I love live music at funerals! It adds much richness. I agree that often the songs requested would be known songs, though, so artists may end up playing covers, for example. But, there is something special about having live music (even if instrumental) played before and after the funeral. There may not be a huge market for it, but I hope you have had or will have the opportunity to play at someones, someday.
Great post Tawnya. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to participate due to my busyness during the meetings. My two songs are picked from all the music I’ve sung during my 25+ years singing in a church choir that have brought me great comfort and joy singing them.
10,000 Reasons, Matt Redman – https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=269&v=DXDGE_lRI0E
Because I love singing so much, I’ll be praising God forever more…
Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled, David Haas – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYCJxrZFl88
Because I believe and want those present to be comforted.
Thanks for ALL you do and for this opportunity to share!
Love these songs! They gave me goosebumps. I added them to the playlsist, so thanks for sharing! I love the line in 10,000 Reasons “the sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning.” When the sun sets on a life, those left behind may feel like the sun will never come up again, but rise it will.