Burying Jed Kesey

Charles 3 Comments

Here’s an extract from an account of the funeral of Ken Kesey:

It was the least maudlin memorial service and funeral I’ve ever been to—his family and community loved him and shared his disinterest in sentimentality. At the burial at his farm his corpse was right there in front of us. People filed by and studied it, and put things in the coffin with him, slipped joints into his pockets.

The grave was next to his son Jed’s. It was not six feet deep. They’d been working on it for three days. It was like looking into a mine shaft. Well, his friends nailed the coffin lid shut, and then they lowered it down. The youngest kids were asked to shovel in the first of the dirt. I happened to be close by, so my turn to help came pretty quickly. I got a shovel full of that good central Oregon agricultural soil and heaved it way down there onto the coffin. It made the deepest boom! I thought about what it must have sounded like from inside.

And here are extracts of an account by Ken Kesey of the funeral of his son Jed, killed in a road accident:

I sincerely hope that I do not—as Richard II worries—`play the wanton with my woes,’ by this display of my family’s private grief and publication of my personal correspondence. I mean only to suggest a path for others wandering in similar pain. We’ve all got a lot of dying ahead of us. We might as well learn how to go about it.

It was the toughest thing any of us has ever had to go through, harder than jail, or my dad’s death, or an OD on STP, yet it also had and always will have a decided glory. Partly, I think, because Jed was such a good kid, very loving and very loved, and the power of his being carried us through a lot of the ache. But there was also the support we got, from friends and family, from teachers and coaches and schoolmates. Without this support I don’t think we would have attempted the kind of funeral we had, or plunged into the activism prompted by the circumstances of the accident.

It’s the funeral that I mainly want to share, because I think you guys and your constituency of readers should know that this homemade ceremony is legally possible. All you need is the land, the determination, and the family.

We built the box ourselves … and Zane and Jed’s friends and frat brothers dug the hole in a nice spot between the chicken house and the pond …You would have been proud, Wendell, especially of the box—clear pine pegged together and trimmed with redwood. The handles of thick hemp rope. And you, Ed, would have appreciated the lining. It was a piece of Tibetan brocade given Mountain Gift by Owsley fifteen years ago, gilt and silver and russet phoenixbird patterns, unfurling in flames. And last month, Bob, Zane was goose hunting in the field across the road and killed a snow goose. I told him be sure to save the down. Susan Butkovitch covered this in white silk for the pillow while Faye and MG and Gretch and Candace stitched and stapled the brocade into the box.

It was a double-pretty day, like winter holding its breath, giving us a break. About 300 people stood around and sung from the little hymnbooks that Diane Kesey had Xeroxed–“Everlasting Arms,” “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” “In the Garden” and so forth. With all my cousins leading the singing and Dale on his fiddle. While we were singing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” Zane and Kit and the neighbor boys that have grown up with all of us carried the box to the hole.

People filed by and dropped stuff in on Jed. I put in that silver whistle I used to wear with the Hopi cross soldered on it. One of our frat brothers put in a quartz watch guaranteed to keep beeping every fifteen minutes for five years. Faye put in a snapshot of her and I standing with a pitchfork all Grantwoodesque in front of the old bus.

Paul Sawyer read from Leaves of Grass while the boys each hammered in the one nail they had remembered to put in their pockets. The Betas formed a circle and passed the loving cup around (a ritual our fraternity generally uses when a member is leaving the circle to become engaged). (Jed and Zane and I are all members, y’unnerstand, not to mention Hagen) and the boys lowered the box with these ropes George had cut and braided. Zane and I tossed in the first shovelfuls. It sounded like the first thunderclaps of Revelations …

Read a fuller account here.


  1. Charles

    I read the account of the burial of Ken's son many years ago and it has had a profound influence on the way we work. A great man, so much more interesting and worthy than Leary.
    As the sign on the front of the bus says, Further.

  2. Charles

    Hi Charles,

    Testing, testing….seems my last comment didn’t materialize? I guess you’ve migrated. Did you notice that all the old links associated with commentators have disappeared in the process?

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