Shivas, Wakes & Funerals: The New Meet & Greet for Those 50 and Older
We might not be dead yet (as our newly-released book points out in its title), but as we age, we find we’re attending more funerals, wakes and Shivas.
Is it morbid to think of these venues as a place to do a meet and greet? Let’s be realistic. Where else can we go as we age to meet others when we’ve lost interest in Internet dating, have no intention of sitting in a bar, have friends who don’t know anyone to fix us up with and everybody we work with is half our age?
Rationalize it this way. Funerals, wakes and Shivas are a good place to socialize, and isn’t that supposed to be good for our health and longevity? Think about the irony in that.
This blog is not meant to be disrespectful, just funny. And the idea is practical. Now that many folks have been vaccinated and funerals and memorials can again be held with more than just the immediate family, we thought it might be fun to introduce this idea as a safe place to make new living, breathing connections. Of course, any changes in Covid-19 numbers can shut down these memorials again. We must all pay attention to being smart and healthy-minded.
If you go, you stroll in on your own, as alone as the corpse you try to avoid staring at. You maintain absolute silence out of respect for the body that isn’t stirring. You shed a few tears, in this case not so much for the dead person because you never knew her that well. It’s because you’ve come alone, and it would be so much easier if you were part of a pair. Isn’t everything easier a deux?
Let’s be honest. You’ve come to this wake to meet new people. Not to sound irreverent, but you’ve learned that the surfeit of Shivas, wakes and funerals at your advanced age makes these the perfect boomer meet-and-greet venue.
You join the crowd that’s begun to gather, all of whom are dressed appropriately out of respect. No jeans, no athletic-leisure tights and tops and certainly no short skirts. You wear your go-to post-midlife crisis Shiva/wake/funeral garb--short navy jacket and nice navy gabardine slacks. You lean against a plant stand while scoping out the group. Hmm. Whom to try to connect with first? You might know someone. In fact, after a second glance you realize you don’t, a rare opportunity. But you’re supposed to be there for the deceased. You try to conjure up memories about the person. However, other thoughts keep rushing through your head: Whom I should try to meet first? Who looks smart, fun, dashing? You feel no guilt. Afterall, you’ve given up a Friday night dinner and movie to work the room.
Slowly, you make your way to the food table, a lavish array, like the kind that used to appear at midnight on nice cruise lines. You start to fill your plate with crudités, dip, little pigs ‘n blankets, a dab of mustard, tuna fish salad, smoked salmon and party rye. How nice you think to yourself since they could have just gone with little Pepperidge Farm cookies and white bread with luncheon meats. You approach a stranger and discover that she’s the sister of the deceased who is hosting the wake. She looks you over wondering your connection, so you explain how you knew her sister. You say nice things about her to be politically correct. She thanks you, mouths the word “doorbell” and excuses herself to greet others.
Since you’re back to being alone, you approach the food table again and take a big scoop of the chopped liver and a few more celery and carrot sticks. You rotate the ends of a celery stalk to scoop up the chopped liver and garlicky hummus nearby. It’s delicious, though it does nothing to enhance your breath or cholesterol level. When you start talking to a handsome gentleman who does not have a wedding band on his right hand, he gives you a funny look and starts to inch back.
You introduce yourself to another older gentleman standing by the piano in an expensive looking suit and tie. You get his name. Hey, you’re making progress. He eyes you up and down, then politely walks away. Could it be bad breath again or maybe he’s already been grabbed up; guys go quickly at this age?
The only one who seems excited to see you is the family’s golden retriever. You start to play, throwing some chewed-up fuzzy yellow tennis ball back and forth, trying not to hit anyone. You finally get tired and plop down in a chair that’s so deep your legs dangle like a toddler. The dog is back at your feet. He wants to play again or maybe have the remains of the food on your plate. You push yourself to get up and mingle more. This is no time to sit back and wait for people to approach you.
Soon, the group thins out. You decide you need a stiff drink and head to the bar, upset that the only friend you’ve made in your gallant effort to expand your social network is an animal. It’s an evening that wasn’t what you had in mind.
The pandemic put a halt to many of these memorial gatherings. However, not to worry. You can still meet new folks via eCondolence.com and shiva.com that introduced "Virtual Gathering." This online tool can be used to honor and remember loved ones through ViewneralsTM, virtual memorial gatherings. And there’s always Zoom. Most of us have attended a Zoom funeral, wake or Shiva, but it isn’t the same especially when there are so many faces on screen and only a few show up on yours. Not the best place when you’re supposed to be silent, or everyone starts talking over each other.
We say take advantage of any social opportunity you can, and if you feel uneasy about doing so, at least master our rules to make you feel more comfortable and act your best self at these—remember--terribly sad times.
What to wear. Think cocktail or business attire. Women should don one of those sweet little jackets in a dark color that they haven’t pulled out of their closets in years, except maybe at Easter or for Yom Kippur services.
How to start a conversation. First ask, how they knew the deceased and for how long. You can proceed to questions about activities you pursued together. Be prudent about jokes or funny stories. We know that these venues can be a magnet for gallows humor. And try to avoid money conversations; they’re tacky at a funeral. So avoid how much the deceased person’s house might sell for, and which pushy real estate salesperson will try to get the listing fast.
How to end a conversation. Since you’re there to meet as many folks as possible to beef up your social life, cut conversations down to no more than 10 minutes and move on. It’s a little like speed dating. Think: meet, greet, goodbye!
Up your Shiva/wake/funeral quotient. If you simply have a dry spell when friends and family aren’t dying—remember, that’s good news---you can still find alternatives. Read your paper’s obituary section and pick a few funerals that sound promising that you can crash. Some obits mention where the Shiva or wake will be held. A few family members may wonder who you are, but they’ll be so sad and distracted that you can easily cover. Say something to the effect like, “I knew him ages ago and we always exchanged holiday greeting cards. I’m surprised he didn’t mention me. I know all about all of you, of course!” If you follow our rules and look like you fit in, there will be no questions asked. If someone really pushes for an explanation, look horrified, and they’ll feel embarrassed. You won’t.
Use a spreadsheet to rate your experience and see if it checks off some of the boxes. Think mathematically. Exponentially. Your goal is to expand your circle. As you stare at the corpse if it’s an open casket or the coffin and you can’t avoid doing so, remember it’s important for you to live life in the present and to the fullest. If you find you have made at least one new contact, you’re ahead of the game as you continue to enjoy life. After all, you’re not dead yet.