the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Be of Good Cheer


During the summer, my father passed away.  My father’s funeral was very beautiful and dignified.  But I was disappointed.  I don’t think it captured my father’s quirky personality. Don’t get me wrong.  Everything went perfect.  Everyone was moved.   It just seemed more for the guests than my father.

After someone dies, everything is very chaotic.  There’s people to call.  Arrangements to make.  The person who died can get lost in the shuffle.

Jewish comedians always make fun of bar mitzvahs, saying that American kids treat them like jokes.  Kids make elaborate parties for their bar mitzvahs, some with crass themes, like baseball teams or Star Trek.   I used to mock these parties myself, but my view is changing.  At least these kids throw a party that reflects themselves.  Why are funerals always so drab.  Why aren’t there any funerals with exotic themes?  

I know this sounds a bit tasteless.  But my father loved the movie "Lawrence of Arabia."  Wouldn’t it be have been cool to have decorated the funeral home like a Arab sheik’s home?  Or an oasis in the Sahara desert?  I’m sure many of the guests would find it tacky and uncomfortable.  But who cares?  My father would have loved it! 

In the Jewish religion, you don’t put up the stone until a year after the death.  Today, my mother called me at home:

"On the way home from work, I bought your father’s stone."

"You did?  It’s only been five months."

"Well, I was in Flushing and I was passing the store. 

"You never can wait, can you?

"It’s going to be a very nice one.   "Kramer" in the middle, and then, "Devoted husband, father, and brother.""

"That’s all?"

"What do you want it to say?"

"I don’t know.  It’s just so… bleh.  It’s like me writing a post that says "Have a Nice Day.""

"We’re not talking about your blodge on the computer.  We’re talking about a stone in a cemetery." 

"How about at least, "Devoted husband, excellent father, and really cool brother?"  I think we can up up with something better for Dad."

"You’re the writer.  You think about it."

I met Sophia at the Coffee Bean.  We sat down to think.  Within thirty seconds, we came up with the exact same solution:

"Be of Good Cheer!"

Be of Good Cheer.  For some reason, my father always ended every phone conversation with that bizarre saying.  I have no idea where he got it from.  I’ve never heard anyone else say it.  It also sounded very 19th Century, like something Sherlock Holmes might say to Dr. Watson.  Maybe my father first heard it in an old movie as a child.

Arthur Kramer, devoted husband, father, and brother.  Be of Good Cheer.

So far, we haven’t sold the idea to my mother.

I know this is a depressing thought, but should we all start thinking about our funerals?  Do you want a traditional  ceremony?  Or something exotic?   Do you care what is written on your stone?  Would you like a certain song to be played?

I always liked "American Pie" from Don McLean:

They were singing,
"bye-bye, miss american pie."
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, "this’ll be the day that I die."


  1. Lauren

    I think Be of Good Cheer is the perfect thing to add to your Father’s stone. Frank Sinatra’s says “The Best is Yet to Come”.

  2. Dave2

    I want a full-length stone with an eternal flame burning at the head of it. Nothing says “this guy was seriously cool” like an eternal flame.

    As for what’s to be written on the stone itself, I’ve always thought that mine should have some totally random saying that makes no sense what-so-ever. Perhaps something like “Here Lies Dave… Taco Beavers Blend The Crispy Pencil”.

    Leave ’em guessing, I always say.

    In any event, “Be of Good Cheer” is pretty amazing, I’ll give you that. 🙂

  3. anne

    ‘Be of Good Cheer’ would definitely be the perfect choice.
    No stone for me, although if I did go for one, I’d opt for something simple but to the point, like ‘She was the Best’ maybe.

  4. Jaclyn

    I really like it. I hope you can sell it to your mother.

  5. JordanBaker

    As morose as it sounds, I’ve been weighing two choices for my headstone since I was in my early twenties. Either “I give thee thanks Lord, God of Hosts, for I have known in this world a wealth of gladness” from “The Battle of Maldon,” or “My Life, I will not let thee go until thou blest me, but then I will let thee go” from Out of Africa.

  6. jamy

    I think it’s great.

    I still remember the funeral for my Uncle Art. He was a lovely, sweet man and was in his 80’s when he died. Friends of his from high school were at the funeral.

    Uncle Art was a big shutter bug. He was never without a camera in his hand at family events. All three of his sons are involved in visual arts (newspaper photographer, film editor, videographer). When the middle son got up to speak, he said what you usually say….

    Then he pulled out a camera and took a picture of the crowd. Although photography is against tradition at a funeral, it was the truest moment of the service. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that if Uncle Art were there, he would have taken that photo. Everyone laughed and then we cried. But I know Art would have been pleased.

  7. Alissa

    I can understand that the funeral, although a memorial for the deceased is really for the mourners, but I do think it’s sad that more funerals aren’t catered to the person’s whose life is being celebrated.

    When my great-grandmother died (she was 93) we were laughing and playing cards during the viewing, it is exactly how she would have wanted it.

    ‘Be of Good Cheer’ is a perfect way to memorialize your father.

  8. Pearl

    Neil, just an FYI for you and your family. Taken from

    “How long after a person’s demise is the unveiling done?

    There are different customs as to when the unveiling takes place – some communities erect the stone at the end of the shiva, others schedule this ceremony at the end of the first month of mourning (shloshim), and others do the unveiling after the first Yahrtzeit.”

    “Be of Good Cheer” is lovely to engrave. It was his personal sign-off, and will continue to be each time someone visits his gravesite.

  9. networkchic

    I agree with you Neil. I think we make funerals way more about our loss than the celebration of the person that’s passed away. I’m going to leave instructions in my will that at my funeral I want people to dress in 70’s disco garb and dance under a spinning disco globe. I don’t really like disco but the thought of all the uptights I know will grace my funeral dancing around like fools per my last request…will surely make me laugh while I’m watching from heaven.

  10. kristine

    i like the “Be of Good Cheer” a lot. put it in quotes or something. can you do italics on a gravestone?

    this reminds me of the movie Love Actually…Liam Neeson’s wife had died from cancer, and since she knew it was coming, planned her own funeral. it called for a slide show of photographs of her and family/friends while Bay City Rollers’ Bye Bye Baby played.

    it was heart wrenching, somehow.

  11. Kelly

    Oh, I love your blodge, even (possibly especially) the posts about cocky Little Neil. They always make me laugh. You know, I’ve told my family they can do whatever they want with me when I’m dead, because I want what’s easiest for them. I’M certainly not going to care.

  12. Alice

    my little sister, at the ripe old age of 20, showed me the music she wanted played at her funeral. it’s this horribly gorgeous 4 part song. she chose it because she thought it would be guaranteed to make people cry, and she wants them sobbing once she’s gone 🙂

  13. M.A.

    Be of good cheer should be the name of your book.

  14. Trix

    My crazy-wonderful father wants two things when he dies. First, and I quote “Fry my ass.” Second, he wants my mother, who hates beer, to drink a six pack in honor of his memory. I think he’s got the right idea…

  15. mysterygirl!

    I love “Be of Good Cheer.” There was a show on TLC about The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off, and he requested that his favorite Queen song (“Don’t Stop Me Now”?) be played at his funeral, and there’s a very weird but poignant moment where the music is rocking and everyone is crying and his mother is sort of mouthing the words to her son’s favorite song. It’s cool to actually remember the one being mourned.

  16. Jaclyn

    I saw that show too, MysteryGirl. I thought the funeral was very touching. I liked how he had a can of baked beans etched in the coffin just so people would sit there and wonder what it meant.

  17. AWE

    I would like to have “I think he’s dead, Jim.”


    Flowers – $40
    New suit – $130
    Casket – $2000
    Getting the day off for AWE’s funeral – priceless

  18. Heather B.

    I really like that; “Be of good cheer”.
    Come to think of it, I’ve never thought about my funeral or what would be on the headstone. I feel like 22 might be a little early for that, but then again, you never know.

  19. officeconfidential

    I love “Be of Good Cheer.” I hope you can sell it to your mom.

    And a “Lawrence of Arabia” themed funeral would have been awesome.

  20. JJ

    I like the New Orleans tradition of having a Jazz band that starts off playing a dirge and then winds up to something fun and lively. It says both things: we are sad to lose you, but happy for you to be in a better place.

  21. Jaime

    I think it’s a great idea Neil, both the theme and the inscription. At my father’s funeral, I think I may have been looked at as being disrespectful, but the whole scene seemed to be just a comedy of errors to me, that by the time they were actually placing his wrapped body into the ground, I just started laughing. All I kept thinking was, if my father was witnessing this, he would be laughing too. There is a funeral scene from one of the pink panther movies’ that we just loved and at the strangest times, we would imitate it and just crack up. As I stood there, all I could imagine was my father imitating the pink panther skit and winking at me.

  22. chantel

    I love cemeteries and was upset when they started placing flat stones on the ground and calling them markers. What happened to, “crypt, family plot and, headstone?”
    I’ve travelled around and my favorite thing to do is go to the cemetery. I like the big ornate, over-dramatic stones. It’s morbid but I take pictures of them. I say go for the dramatic Neil, if you want to put the lyrics to a song on your headstone, you should just do it.
    I haven’t thought of mine yet — maybe I should get to work.

  23. Celina

    “Be of Good Cheer” sounds perfect! I agree with you completely on this topic–I think we should more try to celebrate the person’s life. My father-in-law passed away this summer and we had some “tense moments” with his mom & siblings trying to make all the decisions. My MIL is such a nice lady that she wouldn’t argue, and my SIL and husband were so upset by their loss that they couldn’t say anything either. It was tough, and I’m sure I stepped on people’s toes, but I stepped in and decided on things that I knew “Big Richard” would’ve wanted.
    Since being faced with all that “family drama,” my husband & I have started talking about what we want (at the ripe “old” age of almost 25). I think I’d like song lyrics or a favorite poem on my headstone (something personal that people will appreciate when they go to “see” me).

  24. poshpeasant

    For my father’s funeral there were two wakes and then the service itself. My father’s family has a tradition that the men sit at the funeral home all night long and into the morning. Being the youngest of 6 I’m stubborn and overly indulged. I stayed with the men the last night and we played poker, told stories and drank all night.

    Daddy was very clear about what he wanted on his headstone, full name, date of birth and date of death, that’s it. But on his footstone we had it say very simply, Daddy.

  25. Neil

    Of course, like everything else, they’ll charge you a bundle if you decide to write the entire lyrics to “We Will Rock You” on the stone. For those on a budget, I would definitely suggest not being suckered into buying anything but a cheap casket. Then spend all the money on the headstone. After all, that’s what will be on display forever.

  26. Inland Empress

    A friend of my brother’s came up with a perfect tribute to my Dad. There’s a tile on the floor of the Staples Center (apparently, somewhat near the men’s room, which would be fitting) that says “Sam Boles – Good guy, great Dad” and that’s it. I like that better than his headstone or even the cool footstone the vets put in, even though I haven’t seen it.

    Yeah, okay, sure, it gets trampled on about a gazillion times a week, but at least people see it. Especially those answering nature’s call, an idea my father would find hilarious.

  27. zooz

    I’ve always like Spike Milligan’s headstone ‘I told you I was ill’

    I’m toying with a bit of Peggy Lee ‘Is that all there is?’

  28. Hope

    Very good post, Neil. We are on this earth for so long, and rarely is our life celebrated, so what better time than at our funeral?

    I love “Be of good cheer.” The only saying I can think of my father using is, “Whereever there’s a horse, there’s a horse’s ass.” I’m not even quite sure what it means.

  29. better safe than sorry

    i actually don’t want a stone, i want to be cremated and have my ashes disposed of, wherever.
    i think be of good cheer is great, if it’s something your father used to say, i’d have another talk to your mom about it. she might just need some time to think about it, but i think you’re definitely on the right track of personalizing it with your dads own words.

  30. claire

    Sounds like a fitting epitaph, Neil. I’ve always liked Royal’s from The Royal Tenenbaums.

    I’ve always thought tall and dramatic tombstones/monuments are cool- pieces of sculpture if you will. I haven’t given what I would want much real thought however because I’ve seen in my family the deceased’s wishes ignored for the ease of the living.

    I’d rather have a bash while I’m still alive. A week or weekend of revelry with all the friends I would want at my wedding. Since that’s an event I don’t currently foresee, I’ve been thinking it’d be cool to have The Bash for one of the -5 or -0 birthdays.

  31. Tatyana

    Arab sheikh’s tent? “Tacky” doesn’t begin to desribe that idea, Neil.
    Have you seen that episode of 6′ under where the grieving gay partner gives his dear departed an opera funeral? Complete with sets, makeup and lights, cause “he’d of liked it”?
    Stone inscription: see the show’s site for their *mortuary facts* –
    “The tombstone of Mel Blanc-the voice of Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig-is inscribed “That’s All Folks.”

  32. Jill

    First of all, I love the “Be of Good Cheer.”

    Second, I have thought about the details of my own funeral more times than I care to admit. I blame it on Catholic school, but my mother strongly disagrees.

  33. Dan

    I can’t think of anything I’d rather read when walking through a cemetary than “Be of good cheer.” Except maybe “Free tacos up ahead.” But that’s just because I love tacos.

  34. Nelumbo

    I miss 6′ under! The epitome of tackiness was when those people snorted their friend’s ashes.

    I think the epitaph is perfect!

  35. Megan

    I can think of no better homage to your dad than to put a quote he held so dear (even if no one knows from where it came). Beautiful.

    I could not have written my sentiments better than this post. Truly, I think we forget all about the person who passed and focus too much on ourselves. I told my mother that I want to be cremated with no funeral. Instead, I want everyone to get together, tell a story about something insane or idiotic that they remember me doing, and then have a drink. Oh, and music is a must. I want my death to be a celebration for everyone else. Is that strange?

  36. Mom

    On my stone I want “Onto the Next Adventure”. I’ve talked to my daughter about the music I want and where I want to be buried. I’d love to have the song “Goodbye, My Friend” by Linda Ronstad played.

    I think your father would be proud of you for thinking of that. I agree with all the previous posters – it’s perfect.

    When I lost my father, we played the Bette Midler song “Hero”. It’s been over ten years now and I can still cry when I hear that song. Although, now it’s more of a way to remember him and how much I love him.

  37. Carly

    I dig it. In fact, I think you should offer your services to others, from funeral planning to headstone writing.

    I want mine to say:
    Carly Milne
    Writer, shoe shopper, and pop culture whore.

  38. cruisin-mom

    Neil…”Be of good cheer” congers up an image of a sweet man who wanted everyone he came in contact with to be happy and content. Sounds like the perfect thing for your dad’s headstone. I, myself, expect In and Out double/doubles at my funeral.

  39. He's Dead, Jim!

    My mom died a year ago in December. Extremely traumatic for all of us. We still haven’t made the head stone (well, just a marker, since we chose a cemetary that looks like we are out in the woods, no stones sticking up). It’s tough to pick something that is supposed to capture who she is and was.

    “Be of good cheer” is an outstanding choice for your dad. Not only does it represent him, but it shows how he touched all of your lives. I am sure that wherever your dad is now, he is thinking that for all of you.

    And for me, I’m thinking that mine would say “Namaste,” which means “the divine spark in me bows to the divine spark in you.” or “A little less conversation. A little more action.” (the King).

  40. Neil

    I think the problem is that while we all might have cool ideas for our own funerals, most of our families will never actually do any of this.

    Carly, Cruisin, do you seriously think anyone will write that stuff on your stone unless you buy it yourself?

    When the time comes, decorum and grief come into play — and the last thing anyone is ready for is creativity. The funeral directors know this — they know that they can charge you an arm and a leg because you’re vulnerable. My mother bought the stone from the place associated with the funeral home — clearly the most expensive place to get it from. Sophia and I asked her why she didn’t “shop around?” My mother thought it was undignified to look for a bargain. And this is from a woman who will shop for three hours to find a blouse on “clearance” at TJ Maxx.

    I think Amazon should get into the coffin biz — with free shipping. The internet is putting travel agents and shady car salesmen out of business because the consumer knows he get better deals online. Why not funeral services?

  41. Used Hack

    One of my best friends died and his parents put something really tacky on his headstone. He was their son, but man it sucks.

    I want the Gypsy King’s version of “My Way” played at my funeral. I don’t care if it makes anyone uncomfortable or not. I don’t want a big preachy sermon either.

  42. New York Moments

    Just cremate me & then everyone can get drunk.

  43. Elisabeth

    Great epitaph, Neil – Be of Good Cheer, what a wonderful saying.

    I want to be cremated and have my ashes taken back to France and dropped somewhere in the town when I was born (hey, why not try to spill them in the backyard of the house where I was born, if the present owners would let whoever would take my ashes back to the old country do it?) – I also want to have a very brief non-religious gathering, at which I want the Iris Dement song “Let the Mystery Be” to be played.

  44. anne arkham

    Neil’s Mom: This is a great idea. Sweet, unique, and in good taste. I say run with it.

  45. Neil

    Good news — my mother is thinking of going for it. Maybe. And thanks for the nice comments.

  46. Mine is a Gin

    I love “Be of good cheer” – it works on so many different levels.

    I want a non-religious woodland burial, with nothing to mark the spot. And “All flesh is as grass” from Brahms’ Requiem as I’m lowered into the ground. Afterwards champagne & jollity please.

  47. Rabbit

    I haven’t planned out my funeral. I expect my sister will bury me in the backyard and keep all the insurance money.

  48. bettyonthebeach

    I want to be cremated and I don’t want a headstone. The idea that people go to some hole in the ground and talk to it has always freaked me out. And caskets also freak me out – probably because I’ve attended far too many Italian funerals and they ALWAYS have open casket and the wakes last for days which is really gross. As for my ashes, I haven’t figured out where I want them scattered, but I’m thinking somewhere in Italy maybe. I’ve also thought it would be really cool to write something before I die so it can be read at my ceremony. Something to acknowledge all the people that I loved, tell them not to be sad but to instead celebrate the life I lived. And then make sure they throw a party not some morbid funeral. In short, I guess I want to have the last word!

  49. ekramer

    it is said. it is done
    it will be on the stone

  50. Neil

    That was my Mom. “Be of Good Cheer” has been approved, thanks to all of you.

  51. cruisin-mom

    Mom Kramer…your gentle husband, who just wanted people to be happy, will be remembered for that. What a wonderful tribute you and Neil are giving him.

  52. Richard Mason

    Apparently artist Josh Kirby had Monty Python’s “The Galaxy Song” played at his funeral. That’s the best idea for funeral music I’ve heard.

  53. Richard Mason

    P.S. “Be of Good Cheer” was a good choice.

  54. groovebunny

    Be of Good Cheer is wonderful. I’m glad your mom agrees.

  55. Stacy Elaine

    i think of this all the time. i have a top 20 list of funeral wishes. i rotate their level of importance on a usual basis. right now, i’m back to my 17 year old funeral wish that is to have the love of my life carry a 1984 style boom box down to the front of the proceedings, which will be playing “wave of mutilation” (uk version)and just stand there in awe, like I can’t believe this is happening, she was so pretty and so young. In this particular situation, the love of my life is the perfect blend of Christian Slater in Pump Up the Volume and Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke.

  56. bella

    “American Pie” is one of my favorites too – but “Be of Good Cheer” would make a great epitaph.

  57. Sedulia

    This has been really fun to read! I love “Be of good cheer.” It will make everyone who passes think what a nice person your father must have been.

    On D’s headstone we are going to put his favorite saying: “I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you.”

    I want one of those haunted-house tombstones that falls sideways with time and is so crusted with moss you can barely read the R.I.P.

  58. Tharsei

    After my Dad’s funeral we had a party. We had a memory table filled with things he loved– his bible,hot banana peppers,his favorite red bandana, diet coke, Mail Pouch,photos…and we played music by Elvis and Rod Stewart–his favorites( yes dad was a country boy, a WV coal-mining, country boy) and he was a minister. His message was always–love, laugh, and life’s simple pleasures are the best. The food, music, everything was soo dad, we half expected him to walk through the door and break out in his Elvis impersonation–it was truly a celebration of him. As the people left, they remarked what a wonderful time they had…Be of Good Cheer-Perfect! Your dad must’ve been as special as mine……..what do I want them to say at my funeral? “I think she moved!”

  59. Uncle Miltie

    Your father always ended his phone calls to me with “Be of Good Cheer.” I don’t know where he got that, but I remember people did say that many years ago. Didn’t Cary Grant say that in an early movie? That phrase would be good on the stone, and he was a really cool brother. “Quirky” doesn’t begin to capture his unique view and ideas on life. You couldn’t put “the corned beef isn’t thin enough” on the stone although he always said that too. As for the music, although Gunga Din is ok, maybe something more dramatic like the music from Lawrence of Arabia he would like. Then there is the expensive problem of solar energy or batteries to keep it going. I don’t know but I think the Lubavitch at Old Montefiore had some audio thing hooked up for the rebbe’s grave. Maybe you can check with them. So now you know why you should not pay $14.00 for a pair of briefs. This thing is going to cost money continuously. Maybe you should wait till the technology comes down in price…a year or so.

  60. Uncle Miltie

    The other phrase your dad liked was “You’re a better man than I am Gunga Din,” but I don’t know I’d go for that. “Be of Good Cheer” has more universal appeal and it’s timeless. What should I put on my stone? “If something can go wrong it will” “I Miss My Cats” “Mad Milton” “Mr. Negative” or “There Was No Good Bread in California.” The last is certainly a truth that will identify me as a person of taste to those of like mind. They’ll pass by and say, “yeah this guy really knew what he was talking about…” I’d get respect. But only NY people in CA would appreciate that. I thought about being cremated and spreading myself around…multiple opportunities for comments…in Queens next to my mother the stone will say, “Proud to be a Jewish Mama’s Boy.” Neil you missed the good old days when your father and I grew up before WWII with a Yiddish speaking grandmother from Russia, our mom, and our aunt. Uncle in Spain, so we got all the attention. The corned beef was always thin enough and the bread! I don’t know what’s wrong with being a mama’s boy…you just add the wife and have two “mamas” to take care of you. You should be proud. Let them make the decisions. They know what is best for you. BTW Neil, on your stone please don’t talk about “that thing,” it would kill your mother. You definitely get that from the Kramer side, but the rest of this bludge meshuganah…I don’t know maybe from the mother’s side? Well, I enjoy the bludge, you’re a talented guy, but keep “that thing” under wraps in the boxers if you can. Keep the mystery and bring it out when it can do you some real good. You know, the surprise element, they all know it’s there, don’t wear it out for nothing.

  61. Neil

    Uncle Miltie — So nice to have you read my blog! You’re absolutely right about “Lawrence of Arabia.” Your brother loved the music to that film. But he did have some weird attraction to Gunga Din. Maybe he related to the main character and how he sacrificed himself for the good of all. Where he learnt to say “Be of Good Cheer” is a mystery that may never be solved because I never heard anyone else in the family ever say it.

  62. Rebecca

    Well, I’m picking up a thread that has long since been said good by to but here I am, posting on my two cents even though I know its no longer necessary. I found your post because of a strange series of events. (Isn’t that how most things are discovered on the internet?!??!)

    I was doing my normal nightly multi-task of watching tv and being on the ol’ computer when on the show “Duel” they asked the question of what was on Sinatra’s headstone. So, naturally, I did a quick search… which yielded your post since one of the first commenters mentioned it.

    So, even though your Dad’s very fitting epitaph has been confirmed to be a go, I thought I’d say I love it! I love it because it makes sense. It makes sense because it was your Dad and that’s what most people would want, to represent their own personality. I know when I’ve been to a cemetery and have come across something written on a marker that is different, funny or interesting, I always thing, “Gee, I wish I could have met that person, in person.”

    And in answer to your question… after a Google search… I liked “See You Soon.” Although now that I write this, maybe I would put, “Look for me on Google.”

    Hope life is treating you well!

  63. Musing

    Because of my anxiety disorder, I’ve learned to ignore all kinds of “symptoms” that feel life-threatening but are really just caused by stress. So, my kids and I have teased that what will probably go on my tombstone will be: “She thought it was a panic attack”

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