He had prepared well. As loathed as he was to admit it, he knew the day was coming. Since he wouldn’t be there to supervise the occasion himself, he provided 583 leather-bound pages of detailed instructions. Everything from the paper stock in the memorial programs to the exact shade of gray in the pallbearers’ coat lining was meticulously specified. He was the Great Man, and his funeral must befit one.
He had mapped the cortege to proceed down the main thoroughfare in the city where he lived. The sidewalks were wide enough to accommodate the throngs he knew would attend. He was the Great Man, and everyone would want to witness his final tour through the city. He had considered having his coffin borne on a caisson and preceded by a riderless horse, as was done for President John F. Kennedy. But he decided on a custom Cadillac hearse with large glass windows so the crowds would see his coffin. He didn’t care for Cadillacs, but he didn’t think Ferrari made a hearse.
The Great Man provided a list of the music to be played in the procession. There would be the traditional dirges and religious hymns. He had also included “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive because he loved that song. He once hired the band to play at the grand opening of one of his business ventures. Since he didn’t expect Bachman-Turner Overdrive to be available for his final venture, he requested that a brass band play that song in a minor key.
The service would be at the city’s largest cathedral. He only went there once for his first marriage, but hadn’t been there since. The seating list was carefully arranged. He would invite members of the British Royal Family. He admired them because they were rich and royal. Also on the guest list were world leaders, corporate executives, celebrities, and sports stars—at least the ones who were still talking to him. He would give prime access to the reporters who covered him favorably over the years. His critics wouldn’t be given credentials at all. They would squeeze in with the crowds, as would his ex-wives and one of his children he hadn’t spoken to in years.
After the service, his body would be flown to Washington D.C. He would be buried at Arlington. He never served in the armed forces, but he was the Great Man, so the Secretary of Defense had to agree.
His final resting place would be a mausoleum, two stories tall, faced with white Italian marble, with ornate gold-plated cherubs at each corner. On top would be a 16-foot tall marble statue of him, draped in a toga that revealed a physique he never had, even in his twenties. His name would be chiseled in Trajan capitals over the entryway and filled with 14-karat gold. There would be an eternal flame and an honor guard present day and night, every day of the year. To build such a grand memorial, 60 graves of soldiers killed in combat would have to be disinterred and moved to another cemetery. But he was the Great Man, and he needed the space for an edifice where future generations could pay homage to him. He was certain that people stopped mourning for those soldiers long ago.
The day finally arrived for the Great Man, as it does for us all. Everything went off for him, just as he had planned. There was round-the-clock TV coverage. Large headlines and solemn photos with his birth and death years splashed across newspapers and websites. Everyone who knew him had their turn to share their fondest memories. His long-time critics felt obliged to speak well of him. The late-night talk show hosts, who mocked him for decades, opened with solemn monologues expressing sympathy and prayers for his family. Comedians cancelled shows as they grappled with the question, “Is it too soon?”
With the public duly tearful or silenced, the Great Man was prepared for his final appearance. His body was embalmed and adorned with makeup. He was clothed in his favorite suit, white cotton dress shirt, his most comfortable pair of dress shoes, and his lucky yellow power tie from when he succeeded in his first hostile takeover. He had taken over a 98-year-old family-run business, laid off all the employees, and sold it for a handsome profit.
When they finally finished primping the Great Man like an Egyptian pharaoh, they set him in his custom hand-polished mahogany casket with gold hardware and a cream-colored velvet cushioned interior and adjustable headrest.
The day was suitably gray, as if nature had followed his leather-bound instructions. The rain held off during the procession. Mournful throngs clogged both sides of the boulevard as the cortege headed towards the cathedral. The service was broadcast live on all networks and streaming services, even the ones he hated.
The mourning continued after they sang the final hymn. Cities renamed high schools and streets after him. A country star wrote and performed a mournful ballad, “You Were Great, Great Man.” His song went platinum, and he won a Grammy. A few paid the Great Man the highest compliment of all. They killed themselves because they didn’t want to live in a world without him.
The Great Man died well, as great men should.
Only the mausoleum remained to be completed. The Great Man had instructed that work wouldn’t begin until after his death to keep his rivals from thinking he had become ill and vulnerable enough for them to contend for his position. His coffin would be temporarily buried in the cemetery in the small town where he grew up. When the grand mausoleum was finished in a year’s time, it would call for another great ceremony and another opportunity for the masses to express their adoration of the Great Man.
But there were problems.
First came the lawsuits from the families of the soldiers who were to be disinterred. The Great Man was wrong; there were people who still mourned for them. Next were the concerns from the architects. The ground wouldn’t support such a heavy edifice, especially if graves had to be dug up. They also discovered that they couldn’t route a gas line for the eternal flame. As the architects redesigned the mausoleum, members of the Great Man’s family started bickering. Some didn’t want any changes to the original design, some wanted it scaled back, and some didn’t want to build it at all. Their arguments began at dinner tables, spread to social media, and then went to the courts.
It was then discovered that the Great Man didn’t leave enough money for his grand mausoleum. The redesigns and legal battles cut into its insufficient budget even more. The year came and went, and the Great Man remained in the hometown cemetery. At Arlington, there wasn’t the slightest indication the mausoleum would be built. The soldiers continued their repose undisturbed, protected by a court order.
Then the stories emerged.
They had been rumored for years, but the Great Man was so great that no one dared to say them aloud. But when the mourning had stopped, the witnesses started coming forward. They told tales that turned stomachs and induced outrage. Without the Great Man to deny and threaten to sue, the stories kept coming. Women he had forced into silence were now praised as heroes for coming forward to share the truth. His closest friends, who had wept at his funeral, stepped in front of cameras and sheepishly confessed. Bookstores and airport newsstands filled with mea culpa memoirs and harshly critical biographies.
Gradually, a once admiring nation conceded that the Great Man wasn’t so great after all.
Five years after the Great Man’s death, the plans for the mausoleum are still batted around in the courts, but there is no money to build it and no one who would want to pay homage at it. The public moved their attention to new scandals and tragedies, new celebrities, and new fads. When the Great Man is remembered at all, he is used as a cautionary tale of excess and foolishness. Another outsized braggart in a nation with a long history of outsized braggarts.
So the Great Man, like all men and women, remained mouldering in the ground as grass grew, children played, and an ignoring world moved on without him.