My grandmother Mama Ann died the same week as Kim Jong Il. By comparison, her funeral sucked. Only her two sons and two of her grandkids came. No one cried. The service was three minutes long. When you fade away over years, die at 90 and don't starve an entire nation, your impact wanes into nothingness.
Which seems wrong because not only did Mama Ann not run any forced-labor camps, she started a business that lifted her family from poverty to wealth, even though she spent little of it on herself. She was optimistic despite moving in with relatives at 13 after her mother died and living alone since my grandfather passed away in 1984. She was both warmly noncritical and hilariously, cuttingly honest. Yet this is the 154th article in TIME in which Kim Jong Il's name has appeared--and only the sixth for Mama Ann.
The lesson I've taken from Mama Ann's life is that, whatever it takes, I need to make sure I have a spectacular, nation-stopping funeral. For advice, I called Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, author of Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death. Her first tip: Hire professional mourners. A few of these pros start their phony emoting, and it catches on with the crowd, just as if they were Yelp.com reviewers. Professional mourning is still a vibrant industry in places such as Italy and China, Cullen told me. "They're usually women, usually village elders," she said. "It heightens the emotions." I liked everything about this idea except the elder part. If I'm paying for mourners, I'm getting hot, young female mourners.
Cullen also recommended that I get involved with my local Asian community. "The cultures that you think are the most stiff and buttoned-up, like Japan, China and Korea, are the cultures that openly sob," she said. More than 3,000 people showed up for Cullen's Japanese grandfather's funeral. "At the very, very end, when they're about to close the casket, all the extended relatives surrounded the casket and started to wail." I totally want wailing. Asian funerals also often involve a close male relative carrying a giant framed photo of the deceased. My portrait will be done by Shepard Fairey. Not because I want it to be. It's just hard to keep that guy from doing portraits.
But the most important thing, Cullen said, is to move to New Orleans, where they have jazz funerals with marching brass bands, parades and dancing mourners twirling parasols. When I told my lovely wife Cassandra about moving to New Orleans, she objected, citing the lack of job opportunities, subpar schools and a bunch of other details that were nowhere near as important as my funeral. Luckily, I found the L.A.-based New Orleans Traditional Jazz Band. For just $1,000, Hilarion Domingue, the band's leader, is going to have an eight-piece band parade down the street with my body. He does about 35 jazz funerals a year, and 80% of them are for Asians, or as I call them, friends.