Do you ever wonder how many people will attend your funeral or memorial service? I thought about this over the weekend, because I attended services in two different churches, both packed with mourners. I know the question is hardly worth considering, because none of us will ever know how many show up at our memorials; nonetheless, I know I’m not alone when I sometimes ask myself this question, along with its companion: what if nobody comes? We all want to believe that hordes will miss us when we’re gone. I talked about this with a friend over coffee this morning. She said, “I know a man whose service is planned for a performance hall. All they’ll really need for mine is a table at Starbucks.” She’s wrong of course, but no one wants to jinx what may happen in the future by acting overly confident.
I know of people who resolved the problem by hosting their own events while still alive. In one instance, the mother of a friend, who was elderly but still healthy, held her own memorial so she could hear her relatives say nice things about her. But most of us won’t do this, for fear we would get stuck on the wording of the invitation. “You’re invited to attend my pre-memorial service on such and such a date. Please come ready to deliver a moving speech in which you praise my virtues and ignore my faults. My favorite flowers are dahlias.”
For those of you who are too self-conscious to send an Evite to potential mourners, but would like to increase your service attendance count, here are a few tips. 1. Be rich and/or famous, a near-guarantee to bring in a crowd, unless you acquired your riches as a foreign dictator and are now living in near-anonymity in someone else’s country. 2. Check out early. It will be difficult to live to 99 and still attract a large crowd of friends your age. 3. Be part of a large family. Your relatives will usually feel obligated to attend even if they didn’t like you. 4. Make a long list of people you would like to have there, add their names to your will with a token dollar amount attached to each, and let them know that they can expect a surprise from you in the future.
On the other hand, there may be better ways to attract mourners. The truth is that the two people whose services I attended didn’t need to resort to any tricks. One did have a large family and one died too young and these were factors, but mainly it was the qualities of each that brought people together to pay their respects. Both were kind and generous with their time and their love. They left behind hundreds of people they had helped in some way, not just recently, but throughout the course of their lives. Both made me realize that it could be harder to draw a large crowd than I first thought. I hope it’s not too late to get started.