Barry Saunders

Saunders: Pay your respects while folks are still alive

The late Lewis Grizzard, a former co-worker of mine – OK, I was an obit writer and he was a famous columnist at the Atlanta Constitution – once said no matter how important you think you are, the number of people who show up at your funeral will be determined by the weather.

OK, it’s determined by the weather and, apparently, by the previous commitments your friends have made.

William Shatner, forever Capt. James T. Kirk of “Star Trek” to generations of Trekkies, has been getting creamed because he decided to forego his friend Leonard Nimoy’s funeral. How bad is the vituperation?

One newspaper in a headline referred to Shatner as “Capt. Jerk,” not Kirk, and questioned his 50-year friendship with the man who portrayed Mr. Spock.

How come Shatner couldn’t just teleport himself to Los Angeles for the funeral, some have asked.

No excuse needed

After Shatner invoked the potential expense of trying to fly from Florida to L.A., others asked how come he didn’t use Priceline, the Internet travel website for which he shills.

Shatner’s excuses for not attending have holes in them, sure. But the truth is that he didn’t need an excuse.

There is, theoretically, only one funeral at which attendance is mandatory – your own. (I hope to challenge that theory in about 50 years, when people will be running around going “Ain’t that just like him? Late for his own funeral.”)

Don’t count Larry Green of Raleigh among those criticizing Shatner’s decision. Green said he missed his best friend Dan’s funeral in Michigan a few years ago and never felt even a twinge of guilt.

When Dan’s health became grave, Green said, “his wife called me and asked if I could visit him. The next day, she called and told me he’d died.

“I explained to her that I had just gotten downsized and wouldn’t be able to make it,” Green said. “She was very, very understanding.”

Green asked his mother, who lived in Michigan, to go, and he wrote a letter to be read at the funeral.

Green said he and Dan had been friends from first grade through high school “and had kept in touch over the years,” even when their paths diverged.

If that isn’t evidence of friendship, how is flying cross-country and incurring a potentially crippling debt going to prove it?

For the living

Funerals are for the living, not the dead, and J.C. “Skeepie” Scarborough of Scarborough & Hargett Funeral Home said most times, family members expect friends to be there.

“They see it as a sign of respect,” said Scarborough, a licensed funeral director for 52 years. “It depends on the connection, on how close they were. I’ve seen people travel across the ocean to pay their respects.”

As far as I can tell, the only thing Shatner did wrong was tweeting to his Twitter followers that he wouldn’t be able to make the funeral because of a commitment made months earlier.

Why, one wonders, did he feel compelled to tweet that? ’Tweren’t nobody’s business.

Just like Dan and Larry Green, Shatner and Nimoy had been friends for more than 50 years.

Last year when a friend of 50 years died, my buddy and I drove the two hours to his funeral. We didn’t feel compelled to go; we went because we wanted to express condolences to the family and see other old friends.

Once there, we sat astounded as people paraded to the front of the auditorium to talk about how quiet and reserved our friend was, how he had “a bit of a sense of humor.”

A bit of a sense of humor? “He was crazy as hell,” my buddy said. We both laughed because we knew he meant it in a good way.

After several speakers finished eulogizing our friend, my buddy turned and told me to go check the casket to make sure we were at the right funeral.

Now, our friend would have loved that.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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