John Andrist: Funerals, Bureaucracies, And Prisons


I’ve gone to more funerals than I could possibly count.

You do that more and more as you age. Saying goodbye seems more important to those of us whose days seem more numbered.

But last week I had a new experience, going to a farewell service for a person I scarcely knew. Her memorial service was mostly about friends, caregivers, and family members sharing memories.

It occurred to me that there are so many people who are a distant part of our lives who we really never get to know, other than in a cursory sense.

You probably know quite a few yourself, quiet folks you sometimes meet in the post office, talk about the weather, then go your separate ways.

And then there are those spending their last years in a local nursing home or aging facility. That’s where old people go these days.

But like me, you probably have never taken time to get to really know them. Or perhaps you have.

I’m quite surprised at how many young people really seem to find fulfillment in connecting to an older generation.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]I hope you come to my funeral too. And I hope you have a couple kind words when you pass my casket, like, “John had a lot of hair and a fine set of teeth for a 97-year old man!”[/mks_pullquote]

Surprised? Certainly. We lose a part of our sense of self-worth when we reach the time in life when we become more dependent for help in our daily living chores.

We all have our stories to tell, stories that form an interesting tableau of history and diversity.

What I loved about my dad was his great story telling, which connected me to his youth. And yet a thousand times I have found myself saying, “Gee, I wish I had asked him more about that!”

So I’m glad I went to that service, because now I feel I know Mili.

I learned that she was a world traveler and an artist with needlepoint. Another quiet, aging lady confided the other day that she once raced stock cars, and was better than her brothers. There is a surgeon and a federal judge hobbling around with me.

That’s what I like about funerals. I hope you come to my funeral too. And I hope you have a couple kind words when you pass my casket, like, “John had a lot of hair and a fine set of teeth for a 97-year old man!”

Nice work if you can get it

I just read about what must be the best job in Washington.

Jeffery Farrow makes $100,000 a year for part time work as Commissioner of Preservation of American Heritage Abroad. His staff includes only one full time employee.

But he makes another $750,000 a year lobbying for foreign countries who share an interest in the work he is hired to do by the federal government.

Certainly there is conflict of interest, but he seems to be lost in a federal bureaucracy, because all he does is try identify foreign cemeteries and historic buildings that are important to American Jews, and others, including orthodox Christians from Kosovo.

Often times his lobbying work dovetails with his federal position; that’s why they pay him so much money.

It’s like buying a congressman and having such an unimportant job that nobody notices or cares that you have succeeded.

Prisons try too hard to be nice

There was a long article in the Forum Saturday about what the local jail is doing to placate prisoner complaints on the food service.

The zeal for trying to make prisons more humane is puzzling.

I’m okay with making prisons more about rehabilitation, instead of punishment. But rehabilitation includes aspiring to live a better life than incarceration, doesn’t it?

It seems as though they ought to be nurturing more tough love, like what we were taught to do in parenting.