Funeral stories

From what I understand, there was some discussion in ye olde newsroom about whether the death of Garrison Keillor’s brother constitutes “news.” The story ended up on our Web site.

I think the death of everyone’s brother should be news, but only if the story is written by a brother or sister, the people who knew them best.

Former Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman is on Morning Edition tomorrow with Cathy Wurzer and he talks a bit during the interview about covering funerals. “I love funeral stories,” he said. “They’re not just sad and grieving, but you hear so many great, wonderful, funny, touching stories at funerals. The press rarely covers someone’s funeral. You should be sad and happy if you’re alive in this world because that’s the kind of world we live in.”

All of that is a prelude to tell you that Keillor has written a touching tribute to his brother.

When your brother dies, your childhood fades, there being one less person to remember it with, and you are left disinherited, unarmed, semi-literate, an exile. It’s like losing your computer and there’s no backup. (What it’s like for the decedent, I can’t imagine, though I try to be hopeful.) If I had died (say, by slipping on an emollient spill and whacking my head on a family heirloom anvil), I believe Philip, after decent mourning, would’ve gone about locating a replacement.

If your brother dies, improvise. Someone you run into who maybe doesn’t fit the friendship profile but his voice is reedy like your brother’s, the gait is similar, he takes his coffee black and his laugh is husky, he starts his sentences with “You know,” and the first words out of his mouth are about boats. I didn’t run into him in Rome but I’m sure he’s out there someplace.

I may start stopping in at some funerals, just to write about the people we didn’t know, and wish we had.

  • Funerals, the great family get-together. I played my first funeral as the bugler blowing taps at the edge of a snowy corn field in North Carolina in 1967, honoring just one of our “brothers” lost in Viet Nam. I hope you do visit, and write about, funerals.