Monday, 23 May 2011

The Wrong Funeral, or Why I Am Not Catholic

The hilarious and quirky Helen H. E. Madden brings us a tale of humor and poignancy.

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So Marci asked me to write about something funny for a guest blog post. I tend to write about whatever is on my mind at the time, and recently the topic has been religion. You see, my husband is a good Catholic boy, by which I mean he is Catholic, he is male, and he knows how to keep me happy in bed. I, however, am not Catholic, but I have learned over the years that being married to a good Catholic boy means I sometimes have to endure being dragged to church. Around our house, we refer to Christmas and Easter as "Drag-Your-Buddhist-to-Church Day" and everyone takes bets as to how long it will be before I burst into flames once I'm seated in the pews.

This past month, thanks to my daughter taking First Communion, I have been dragged to church repeatedly, so often in fact that people have started to ask, "Have you been barbequing, or is that hickory smoke perfume you're wearing?" These comments are inevitably followed by the question, "So why aren't you Catholic yet?" You see, there is a process by which I could be transformed from a godless heathen Buddhist to a good Catholic, but I have vowed never to go through that process. And why would I never do that, you may ask?

It's because I once went to the wrong funeral.

Yes, you read that right. See, here's what happened. I first started going to church with my husband early in our marriage. On one of these visits, I was cornered by a gruff old man with a booming voice and bushy eyebrows that looked ready to crawl off his face and eat me alive.

"What's the matter with you?!" he blustered as he shook his cane at me. "I see you sittin' in church, but you don't sing any of the hymns. What's wrong? Your mouth don't work?"

"My mouth works fine," I replied. "But I don't sing the hymns because I'm Buddhist."

"What?" he bellowed. "You're NUDIST?!"

"No, Dad!" said his daughter, coming up behind him. "She said Buddhist, not nudist."

"Oooooooooooh..." the man said. Then he turned back to me and snorted. "Too bad, the other would have been more interesting. By the way, my name is Bill."

And that's how I came to be friends with Bill. Every time I showed up at church with my husband, Bill would come up to me and ask if I was ready to convert. He always started these conversations by serenading me with an Irish love song. He sang very beautifully and very LOUDLY, so loudly that everyone in the church always knew when I was there. Once, Bill ran into me at a Barnes and Nobles, and he started singing to me there too. It scared the hell out of the sales clerks, but it made me completely fall in love with the old guy.

Right after the Irish love song, Bill always asked me the same question. When was I going to convert? "Come on," he'd say. "I'll be your sponsor. I'll teach you to be a bead mumbler, a fish eater! We'll have fun."

I always demurred. "Thank you, Bill. I know you'd make a great sponsor, but I'm just not ready to convert."

"Well, get ready! I'm an old man. I can't die until you convert!"

"Well I guess you're never dying," I'd tease.

Then one afternoon, I got a phone call from the church.

"Hello?" a woman said. "Are you on the funeral tree?"

"The what?!" I replied.

"The funeral tree. You know, when someone dies, we call two people and then they call two people and they call two more people and so on and so on..."

"Sounds too much like a Faberge commercial to me," I said. "No, I'm not on the funeral tree."

"Oh, well then I guess I should tell you that Bill died."

That stopped me cold. "What?! I don't believe it! Bill died? When?"

The woman gave me the details about how Bill had suffered a massive heart attack two days earlier and his funeral was to be held that Saturday. I tearfully told her my husband and I would be there and I hung up. Sobbing, I called Michael and passed on the bad news.

"Bill died!" I cried into the phone.

"What?! When?"

And so I told him the details.

"Oh honey," he said. "I'm so sorry to hear it. We'll go to the funeral mass on Saturday, okay?"

I sniffed and sobbed and said okay, then hung up the phone and spent the rest of the week being miserable. On Saturday, I put on my nicest dress and rode with Michael to the church.

"I still can't believe Bill died," I kept saying, over and over and over again.

"Me neither," Michael would reply. "He was so intent on getting you to convert."

We arrived at the church and got out of the car. As we walked through the parking lot, we kept repeating ourselves.

"I just can't believe he died!"

"I know. It's such a shock."

"Seriously! How could Bill just die like that? He was supposed to convert me first!"

The conversation continued all the way into the church. As we were sitting down in the pews, I said it again.

"I cannot believe Bill died!"

"Neither can I," Michael said, a strange look suddenly coming over his face. "Because he's sitting right over there in the choir!"


Sure enough, Bill was alive and well and sitting in the choir, waiting to sing for the funeral mass. I jumped out of my seat and raced over to him.

"You're supposed to be DEAD!!" I shouted at him.

"Who, me? Oh no, that was Bill Smith who died last week. I'm fine. Say, when are you gonna convert?"

And then he started singing 'My Wild Irish Rose' to me.

A few years passed. During that time, I had two children, both of whom were baptized at the church. Bill was there to congratulate me at each event, always ready with a love song and his plea for my conversion. Sometime after that, we moved to a different parish, and I didn't see Bill as often anymore, which was a shame. The one day I was flipping through the newspaper and I ran across an obituary for...

You guessed it. Bill.

He had suffered a heart attack and passed away a few days before. This time I knew it was him. There was a photo of him at the top of the obituary. In tears, I called my husband, this time to let him know Bill had really, truly died.

"Honey, I'm so sorry," he said. "We'll go to the funeral mass on Saturday."

So once again, on Saturday I dressed up and piled into the car with my husband and our girls. All the way over to the church, Michael and I reminisced about Bill and his Irish love songs, and once again we kept saying the same thing over and over again.

"I can't believe he's dead! He said he couldn't die until I converted!"

"I know, honey. I can't believe it either."

"And he's really dead this time!"

"Yes, he is. We both saw the photo in the newspaper."

"But I can't believe it. How can Bill be dead?"

All the way to the church, we kept repeating ourselves. In the parking, we said it over and over again.

"I can't believe he's dead! I just can't!"

And then, just as we reached the sidewalk leading up to the church doors, a car pulled up. A young man got out of the front seat and walked around to the back of the car. He opened the door, and out stepped...


If I could have died of shock, I would have done it then. Instead, I turned to my husband and screeched.


Michael just stared, his jaw slack. "I know! I saw it too. I don't understand!"

I started tearing my hair out. "This isn't happening! This can't be happening! I cannot have gone to the wrong funeral for the same man twice!"

At that point, Bill turned and smiled at me.

"Good afternoon, madam. What lovely children you have! Tell me, are they both boys?"

Boys? BOYS?! I looked at my girls in their pretty pink dresses and then glared at Bill. He smirked at me with his usual charm.

"Hey, do you guys like music?" he asked.

Oh, this was it. Any second now, Bill was going to start singing Irish love songs to me. I thought I would faint. But then something very strange happened. Bill reached into his suit jacket and...

He pulled out a harmonica.

"You two girls know the ABC song?" he boomed to my daughters. They nodded and he smiled. "Good! Then you can sing along!"

So we walked down the sidewalk together, Bill playing the harmonica and the girls and I singing the ABC song. I had never, in all the years I had known him, seen Bill play a harmonica. It also occurred to me then that I had never seen Bill wear a VFW cap either, and didn't he seem a bit shorter than usual? I mean, yeah, the man was dead, but getting shorter wasn't supposed to be a side effect of dying, was it?

When we reached the doors of the church, the young man who had escorted Bill out of the car came up and fussed.

"Enough with the music!" he told Bill. "Don't you know this is a funeral?"

"Oh, a funeral is it?" Bill blustered. "Did you guys know this was a funeral? I didn't know we were going to a funeral!"

I started to giggle. "You know, I know who's funeral this is, and I don't think he'd mind a little music."

Bill smiled at me. "I knew him too, and he wouldn't mind at all."

Then the young man took Bill into the chapel and my family and I went to the reception area to meet Bill's family. When I found Bill's daughter, I asked her a question.

"Say, did your dad have a brother?"

She snorted. "Oh yeah! And they look exactly alike!"

"Oh thank god!"

Then I told her about how we had gone to the wrong funeral a few years earlier and found her father still alive, sitting in the choir. And I told her how we had all had a heart attack just moments before when her uncle arrived at the church. She laughed so hard, she had tears coming down her cheeks.

"Thanks for that!" she told me. "I've never heard a better story at a funeral in all my life. Dad would have loved it!"

And so that's why I will never convert to Catholicism. Because I know, even though I've been to his funeral twice now, Bill is still out there somewhere waiting to convert me. And so long as I don't convert, that man can never die.

I look forward to hearing what Irish love song he sings to me the next time we meet.

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Helen E. H. Madden, also known as Cynical Woman, is a writer and artist who quit her lucrative day job years ago with no idea what she might do next. Since then, she's written and produced 165 short stories for the Heat Flash Erotica Podcast ( Her erotica short story collections, "Future Perfect" and "Welcome to Mundania", are published by Logical-Lust ( She is currently podcasting her second novel, "The Little Death," a tale about telepathy, government conspiracies, and the dangers of the human touch.

Helen's art projects include her webcomics, "The Adventures of Cynical Woman" and "Rats!" She also runs, an online gallery of children's artwork about scary stuff. She is very much in love with zombies right now, but that's probably because she is one, and could someone please explain the concept of "sleep" to her? Because she's never experienced it herself.

Visit Helen's websites at:

Twitter -!/Cynical_Woman


Judith Leger said...

Awesome, Awesome post! I laughed outloud and I cried too. Wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing.

JMS Books LLC said...

Helen, that was a great story :) Thanks for brightening my day!

Anthology Authors said...

Hilarious, and a wonderful tribute. I'm with Judith on this one. Laughed and cried.

Helen said...

Thanks, guys ;) I have spent so much time at church the last few weeks, and can't help but think of Bill every time I walk through the door. He was something special.

Faith said...

Amazing post! I haven't enjoyed a blog post this much in a long, long time!

Janice said...

Loved the post. How odd to hear about a man's death twice. And his lookalike brother adding to the confusion.

It reminded me of a funeral I went to. My mom's next door neighbor and close friend, Janie, passed away. I went with my mom to the funeral.

After the funeral we noticed something odd. My mom leaned over to me and asked, "Is it me, or do all these women look just like Janie?"

I agreed with her. There were fat Janies and skinny Janies, and short Janies and tall Janies. Every where we looked was a Janie lookalike.

It was enough to make my head spin.

Then one at a time they came over to greeted my mom by her first name and gave her a hug. "Janie always loved you."


Tami said...

OMG - that was funny and so sad it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

Helen said...

Thank you Faith, Janice and Tami! It is one of the stranger stories of my life (although I don't have any shortage there). To this day, I keep expecting to hear "My Wild Irish Rose" every time I step into a church ;)

Fiona McGier said...

I've always liked Catholics as opposed to other Christians, because that whole "confession" thing allows them to have fun every other day of the week, then atone for it and go out and do it again!

Mom was 8th of 10, a large Polish family. I remember going to wakes as a kid, and we'd sit in the funeral home with her brothers and sisters, and as usual, the dirty jokes would start. Once we were laughing so loudly the funeral director asked us to show some respect for the family. The widow stood up to tell him icily, "We ARE the family!"
My friends call themselves "Chreasters", because they only go to church on Christmas and Easter. We live in a rabidly fundamentalist town, but the neighbors forgive us for sleeping in on Sunday morning. They even let me be their daughters' girl scout leader for years! Even with all of my tattoos!

But I don't think being a Buddhist is for me...they can't drink alcohol, right? "In Heaven there is no beer, that's why we drink it here..."

Fiona McGier said...

And now that you have shared this story with all of us, Bill lives on! Thanks and God bless Bill, who's no doubt, singing where-ever he is.

Lisa Alexander Griffin said...

What a beautiful and funny story. Thank you for sharing it.