I have always wanted a job whose very title implies uniqueness and respectability. Something with the word “designated” in the title, like a designated driver or designated hitter. Preferably, it should involve little actual labor and provide a very large income. Finally, I found the career of my dreams: designated mourner.

I got the idea when I went shopping for a stylish black dress. It seemed perfectly suited for a funeral. Whenever a loved one dies, the grieving survivors often have to push aside their grief long enough to scramble through the racks for something suitable to wear to the funeral. For once, I was prepared in advance. But everyone in my family is hale and hearty, except for Aunt Armina, who just turned 103 years old, and is mean as a snake, as the saying goes. Where was I going to wear my stylish black mourning dress?

I began phoning Aunt Armina in the middle of the night. When she sleepily mumbled, “Hello?” I shouted, “Boo!” It didn’t work. It just annoyed her.

Then as luck would have it, I developed a bad cold. How good can Aunt Armina’s resistance be at her age? I began hanging around her house, wiping my nose and then touching the doorknob, watching for any indication that I could soon take my stylish black dress out of its plastic bag. Alas, the woman has the constitution of a racehorse. She is also getting even crankier in her dotage.

“Quit coughing on me, will you?” she barked. “And quit holding that mirror under my nose!”

It was getting frustrating. There must be someone who could use a well-dressed mourner. I perused the obituaries in the newspaper and showed up at the next scheduled funeral. I did not know the deceased, so here was a chance to practice my acting skills by playing a grieving friend; one who was clothed in a stylish black dress. Have I mentioned the dress?

I mingled with the crowd of mourners, dabbing my eyes with a tissue and making small talk. Mostly I just listened and nodded. Occasionally, when there was a lull in the conversation, I would say with a sniffle, “Isn’t it a shame? He looks so natural,” or “How is Aunt Barb taking it?” Almost everyone has an Aunt Barb, so I considered this a safe statement.

Afterward, I stood by the casket, weeping and wailing, looking quite fetching in my stylish black dress.

I began to attend funerals regularly. The owner of the local funeral home eventually noticed my constant presence. He offered me a job as a designated mourner at sparsely attended funerals, kind of like an extra in a Hollywood production. It was a show business hopeful’s dream come true. This could be my big break!

One night he offered me a bonus if I would deliver the eulogy. I agreed, even though I had never met the deceased. When the time came, I stepped up to the podium, cleared my throat and looked over the audience. The whispering, scuffling, and rustling slowly quieted and all eyes and ears turned to me in anticipation.

I quickly glanced at the notes the funeral director had given me.

Wow, was this guy dull! He was a regular pillar of the community. He was a teetotaler, married for over 60 years, four children, a Sunday School teacher. I can’t do anything with this. This will do nothing to advance my career as a designated mourner. Perhaps a little embellishment is in order, just to make things interesting.

I tossed the notes aside and began.

“Ahem. We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of our dear friend, Bob. I see in the audience Tom, the proprietor of Tom’s Tassels and Tails Strip Club, where Bob spent many an evening when his wife thought he was at Sunday School.”

A collective gasp rose from the mourners in the audience.

“Yes,” I continued, “Bob was a fine family man, a fair man. Just as he treated his wife and their four sons, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, so did he support his long-time mistress Lolita (the former backup singer for Simon and Garfunkel) and their four children, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.”

Pandemonium broke out. The widow shrieked and clutched her chest as the mourners knocked over chairs and rushed the podium. I had to run for my life.

It marked the end of my career as a designated mourner. The real tragedy is that I tore my stylish black dress scrambling over the fence as I made my getaway.

 

 

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