WHY I HATE JANUARY - Part 3: Catholic Funeral
Shane's parents sat me down and asked me what he would have wanted. "We're Catholic" they said, "and our belief calls for a funeral done by a priest in a church."
They continued - "But we don't want to do anything that would go against what Shane would have wanted. What do YOU think?"
I looked at them and said "I think the only thing Shane would have wanted is for you to not be completely miserable. If a Catholic funeral will help you with that, then it's what he would have wanted."
It's probably one of the most decent gestures I've made in my life.
Far be it from me to point out that, for those who practice "by the book" Christianity, there is one "Unforgivable Sin": a sin which will not be forgiven by God - making salvation impossible. That sin is Blasphemy. Specifically "Blasphemy against the Spirit". You know...the shit we did on stage and got paid for.
But hey, it's worth a try I guess. Catholic funeral it is.
Here's where it gets crazy.
I was asked to choose the pall bearers for the funeral. I filled four of six with band-members: me, Frost, Otto, and Greg. I needed two more. I didn't want to completely exclude the family, but I didn't really know any of his relatives beyond his parents...and he wasn't - to my knowledge - close with any of them.
But then I came up with what I thought was the perfect solution: Dean and Don - Shane's twin cousins. Dean "Dirt" was the singer of Kenosha hardcore legends 10-96. I'd known him and his brother since my punk rock days (early 80s) when the Kenosha Punx would caravan to shows in Madison. Including them was a tip of the hat to both family and Shane's roots in the punk scene. It seemed ideal. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Sabrina had driven a borrowed SUV from Detroit where she was living, and we all rode together to the church that morning. All except Dean and Don. The hearse showed up and still no twins. The funeral director showed us how to use the collapsible rolling cart and how we should lift the casket. Don finally showed up in his Renaissance Faire outfit talking about his Gypsy heritage. Gypsies are invisible. God said it was ok for Gypsies to steal because thieves were crucified with Christ. Or something. Wacky shit. It was always something with this guy. Where was his brother?
And suddenly, there was Dean. He'd been drinking at a downtown bar since 6am and wasn't
able to walk straight much less carry a coffin...but there was no time to change horses in mid-stream. We had to start now. I put him in front of me and grabbed the collar of his leather jacket - holding my arm like I was throwing an uppercut. He hung there like a huge puppet and slumped forward. "Hold on to the handle" I seethed in a stage whisper as the procession began. He complied and we shambled forward. He started sobbing loudly as we walked.
Somehow we made it into the church and placed the casket at the altar. The front pew was reserved for us. I pulled Dean down next to me and let go of his collar. He almost fell off the pew so I grabbed it again. He was still sobbing, and as the priest began the ceremony...he suddenly shouted "Bullshit!!!"
This was not happening.
But it was.
The place was packed. One side of the aisle was filled with the dressed-in-black crowd mingling with leather & spikes crew: dyed black, bleach blond or wildly colored hair. My parents - sitting squarely in the center of this motley menagerie - stood out like lambs in wolf pack but were clearly comfortable where they were. The other side looked like your basic church-goers. And they were horrified.
And they were all looking directly at us.
"Shhhhhh!!!" I hissed in Dean's ear. He quieted down - shaking his head and groaning "No....no....no". The priest was obviously shaken - I doubt anyone had ever shouted "Bullshit!" in his church before - and Shane's parents, in the front pew on the other side, were visibly upset.
The ceremony lurched forward while Dean kept mumbling and muttering like a lunatic: mostly "No...it's wrong" but still unleashing an occasional "shit...bullshit".
I have to admit that it was hard not to laugh. And some people did. Part of it was a nervous response to such an outrageous situation, but there was admittedly an almost scripted hilarity to it: like an episode of the "Young Ones" with Vivian drunk at Rik's funeral. It was beyond surreal - it was absurd.
At one point the priest addressed the mourners as a whole: "I'm sure many of you are wondering why God would strike down such a talented young man with a promising future ahead of him in the prime of his life..."
This caught my interest. Yes. I'd like to know why. Tell us. The priest began to explain...
The priest stopped...and I laughed in my hand. I couldn't help it. It was like Shane had planned this. Or at least he wasn't going to take it lying down. Even today I can imagine him laughing through it despite his parents' consternation.
The priest continued, but before I could hear the answer to what was likely a rhetorical question, my attention was suddenly focused on Don. He was creeping across the back of the altar. In full view of everyone present. He was moving slowly and deliberately like...oh Hell no. No. Like he thought he was invisible.
"What the fuck is he doing?" I forget who it was that leaned forward from the pew behind me and whispered this...but at least I knew I wasn't the only one seeing it. Again, it was hard not to laugh at the utter absurdity of the situation.
He moved along the wall toward an ornate gold brazier he had pointed out to me when we first came in. He had pointed to it and said "I want that". Oh Hell no.
And then he took it.
He took it from the altar and scurried away just as the priest was beginning a prayer. An important prayer. A prayer where they use that brazier to convey the soul of the deceased to Heaven. But it was gone.
The priest looked confused. There was a whispered conference with his acolyte and they quickly substituted a simple silver brazier...likely not properly consecrated to facilitate the ascension of a soul. "Gold belongs to God...but silver is of the Devil".
It was as if forces were conspiring to interfere with the ritual. The Catholic funeral. Diabolical machinations.
Then Don was right next to me asking for keys to the car. In the middle of the ceremony. I quietly told him that it was Sabrina's car. He forced his way down the pew she was in like Bugs Bunny at the movies: "pard'n me, s'cuse me, pard'n me, s'cuse me"....and she gave him the keys.
Luckily Gypsies were not meant to steal SUV's that day...only to hide stolen property in them.
Later that night, after the burial and the gathering at family's home, I got a call from Shane's father.
Did I know anything about Don taking something from the church? Um...didn't EVERYBODY?! Maybe he WAS invisible. Whatever the case, the priest had chosen to approach the guy whose son was just killed about it...and explain that it was "very expensive". Several thousand dollars. If he didn't get it back the priest would have to bill him for it.
What the fuck?
So...priests don't say "if we don't get it back we will have to involve the authorities", they just bill you for a few grand if you don't get their chintzy Pier 1 incense burner back for them? What a racket. But we knew that.
He couldn't have asked anyone...ANYONE else but the parents of the dead guy about it while he was eating little ham sandwiches at their house with all of us?
Of course not. Because he was a coward. And he was afraid.
I wanted to drive over to the rectory and punch him in the face. And then write a song about it with a pen dipped in his bloody nose. Instead I called Don and made him give the damn holy brazier back.
To be continued.
When I spoke to Magus (then Magister) Gilmore on the phone the day of Shane's death, I asked if he could perhaps write something, and he did. I originally intended to display it near the pentagram-shaped flowers at the wake...but decided not to. While Shane might have have enjoyed it, his family would not have. Funerals are for the living, not the dead. This one was for his parents and family. Not for me. I had printed a stack of Magus Gilmore's tribute and ended up instead just handing them out to those who would appreciate it later that night. It is reproduced here.