reprinted from the Auburn Citizen. September 8, 2012
People say sill things about their funerals. We do that because we will not be the ones grieving when our time comes: others will be. So we say things like, “Oh don’t make any fuss over me,” or, “Just have a big party in my honor!” or, “Live good lives and sprinkle my ashes at the golf course, ” or “Bury me in my automobile.”
James Taylor, the author of the line at the top, is still living, so we don’t yet know if his family will decide to “strap him in behind the wheel.” It wasn’t one of his bigger hits, plus that whole car-burial thing could get complicated, so I’m betting his funeral will have more of a, “You’ve got a friend” theme.
But what about our families? Since none of us have platinum albums to our name, there’s a danger that, when we die, our families will take the foolish things we’ve said about our funerals seriously. Seriously, don’t.
I know, I know. “It’s what (s)he wanted.” Let me remind you again: Your loved one is not the one whose needs are central at his or her funeral. When someone dies, it is crucial to attend to the needs of the living. And the living need ways to (1) honor the life of the deceased, (2) openly grieve, and (3) be comforted by the presence of others who share our grief or who commiserate with our loss.
When my grandmother died, a neighbor from the 1940s who hadn’t been seen in decades surprisingly turned up at the calling hours, delighting the family who remembered her from their happy childhoods. When my stepmother died, fellow schoolteachers from her era all gathered in a joyful fellowship at the funeral home. When my mother died, her nine living brothers and sisters, all from out of state, were gathered together in one room, something I hadn’t seen before and never saw again. We all have similar ordinary yet precious memroies.
So gently, firmly ignore those attempts at self-effacing humility that mom, dad, sister or brother make when they say, “No funeral, no calling hours for me.” Our survivors are the ones who are robbed when we try to be humble.
I knew a lovely woman who had successfully taken up painting in her old age and then had fallen into severe dementia. When she died, her sole daughre arranged for the usual: calling hours at the funeral home and a funeral from the church. At the funeral were myself, the daughter, the organist, the funeral director and a lady from the nursing home. It wasn’t sad; it was holy. She was a child of God and deserved exactly what anyone else would get. I preached the whole sermon, we sang all the hymns, we wept at her grave. She mattered, period.
Another time there was a shameful death, filled with mixed emothions. But the deceased had attended our church and had sporadically sung in our choir. The family wanted nothing to do with a funeral; they were unknown to our church and angry and confused over this one who belonged to them. So, I ignored their wishes. We announced and conducted a stirring memorial service; the organist volunteered to play for free and we all wept when we sang together, “His eye is on the sparrow.”
OK, so I’ve put you on notice. Even if you instruct that your body be whisked away and that no one call together friends, family and neighbors to honor the sheer miracle of your life, I (or some other no-good preacher) might just have a funeral for you anyway. So there!
When I hear rumblings of, “I don’t want anything done” or “Don’t waste your money on me,” or when I see, day after day, death notices in The Citizen that say “At the request of the deceased, there will be no services,” I wonder about our humanity.
Look at it this way: When a baby is born, there is attention paid and celebration. Life is a miracle. Are we that busy or that poor, that we cannot mark the end of a life, tooo? Life’s a miracle! If we were able to ask babies before birth wheterhe they wanted us to decorate a nursery or hold a shower, maybe they’d demure, “Naw. Pay no attention to me. Just ackt like I’m not evere here.” Thankfully babies haven’t yet learned to say such things.”