My Grandfather’s Irish Wake

My earliest memory of attending a funeral visitation was when my Grandfather passed in 1970. I can still recall playing with a group of my cousins while we kept an eye on our parents as a sad event gradually turned into a raucous party.

I hail from a large Irish Catholic family from a community in Ontario, Canada. Irishmen settled the area in the early 1800s. In 1970, the town was still predominantly of Irish descent, and the only distinction was whether you were Catholic or Protestant.

My Grandfather’s casket was placed in the parlor of the house. All afternoon, there was a steady stream of people filing in the front door to pay their respects.

They would stop at the casket, say a quick prayer, express condolences to my Grandmother, and proceed into the main living room where everyone was gathering.

As a young child, this seemed like a magical event. Who were all these people? How did they know my Grandfather? Where was all this food coming from?

I remember how the crowd grew throughout the day. By the time the sun was setting, my grandparent’s small house was bursting at the seams, and the crowd overflowed into the backyard.

Beer replaced the tea and coffee on the food table, someone rang a bell, and the party commenced.

My cousins and I gathered under a table in the living room and watched the events unfold.

The adult men and most of the women had a beer or two or three. We stopped counting.

A box was placed in the corner. People took turns standing on the box and telling stories about my Grandfather. Apparently, he was quite the hell-raiser as a young man.

The beer flowed, the stories were shared, and the musicians arrived.

The band set up in the corner and started playing Irish tunes. The energy level ratcheted up another notch, and soon the dancing commenced. Yes, there was dancing at my Grandfather’s wake. He would have loved it.

Large bottles of Irish whiskey appeared out of nowhere (as I said, this seemed like a magical night to a young boy).

The band became quiet, and shots were poured. Someone gave a toast, and glasses were raised in unison.

A community of family and friends saying goodbye to my Grandfather. I always thought of him as a tired, small man who liked to carve a block of wood and smoke his pipe. But on that day, he seemed larger than life.

While working with a client this week, it struck me that funeral rituals are coming full circle, and “what was old is new again.”

The client told me about having two creative memorial events in the past week. One was a farewell toast complete with shots of single-malt Scotch. The other involved everyone gathering around a bonfire outside, telling stories about the deceased.

At both events, the feedback from the family and friends was overwhelmingly positive. He heard things like, “I didn’t know a funeral could be this good.”

Funerals have always been a reflection of culture. For example, my Grandfather’s Irish wake was a clear reflection of the Irish culture in which he was raised. The Irish have said their goodbyes the same way for hundreds if not thousands of years.

As a melting pot, the culture of the United States tends to change over time. Rather than sticking with the same rituals for hundreds of years, each generation develops its own traditions.

The GI and Silent Generations liked things to be unemotional and formal. They were the “stiff upper lip” generations, and their funerals reflected this culture.

But Baby Boomers are not like that at all. If you ask Baby Boomers if they would prefer a formal funeral or a party when they pass away, 90% or more will choose a party.

A client once sent me a picture of people dancing to an Elvis Presley song at a funeral. That’s what Boomers want.

Another sent me pictures of a Jimmy Buffet themed funeral, including a Margarita bar. That’s what Boomers want.

Another has started offering Farewell Toasts as an option for families who don’t want a traditional (aka formal) funeral. That’s what Boomers want.

The secret to building a successful business….SELL WHAT PEOPLE WANT!

My Grandfather’s funeral had pot luck food, Irish music, a dance floor, beer, and shots of Irish Whiskey.

I haven’t planned my funeral yet, but off the top of my head, it would probably involve a spread of barbeque ribs, a keg Guinness, good wine, classic rock music, a bounce house for the kids, and fireworks.

What kind of funeral would you like?

Until next time


PS: Remember….sell what people want and your business will grow.

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