Thursday, May 07, 2009

Reflections on ceremony, death, and hope

Does anyone ever enjoy attending a funeral? It's not a happy occasion. The "man of the hour" is not able to actively participate or contribute to the remarks (as you know he would have liked). Most difficult of all- if the life you're celebrating is that of a person you usually hang out with when attending funerals- the loss is even more apparent. When the speakers say something entirely too preachy or serious it's automatic to look towards Uncle K- but today he wasn't there. I mean his body was there- in a box- at the front of the room. But to quote Matthew 28:6, "He is not here, he is risen," and he is sorely missed.

Unfortunately, Dave's family has provided me with the opportunity to attend many funerals in the past 10 years. I've only attended 3 funerals for friends and family on my side in the same amount of time. Ten years is a long time for reflection about what I do, and do not, like at any given funeral. My husband will think me very macabre, so we won't tell him what this post is about and he most likely won't ever read it on his own. If I die, could someone please print out my wishes in time to plan the funeral around them?

I love music and singing. When I die I'd love to have lots of music and singing. My absolute favorite hymns are:  1. Simple Gifts,  2. Bringing in the Sheaves, and  3. Joyful, Joyful. I'm also rather fond of, "How Great Thou Art," but it's so common at funerals that you don't have to sing it at mine (unless you want to).

If the pastor gives a sermon at my funeral I would like it to be about hope, promise, service, and the enduring nature of love. I do not want the officiating person (or any other speaker) at my funeral to speak about:  1. Tithing, 2. The work we must do to earn a place in heaven, 3. My late acceptance of the importance of the church organization (which hasn't happened yet, and may never happen), 4. The importance of obedience to church doctrine (because we all know that I only really care about Love God and love one another- I could care less about conforming to church doctrine), and 5. The opportunity my death gives all the people attending my funeral to accept the Lord as your Saviour (It's not that I don't think that's important- funerals just aren't the place for recruiting new people).

You may talk about service to others (but only if it makes me sound good and actually applies to the live I've led). It would be acceptable to talk about Jesus and the resurrection and how that event gave us all everlasting life (but I'll haunt you if you suddenly shout, "Come to me Jesus!" or begin swaying and moaning). I'd really like the religious part of the event to last fewer than five minutes and it should be something that is comforting (seriously, if there is talk of tithing at my funeral I'll haunt everyone who was there and let that sort of talk occur). 

My favorite type of funeral occurs in small, rural churches where all the people in the community know each other. The pastor speaks of the glory and mercy of God. He reminds us that life everlasting is ours once we part from the Earthly realm. Then (after a very brief sermon- like 3 to 5 minutes) the pastor passes the microphone through the congregation and invites everyone to share their memories of the deceased. It's amazing to hear how lives were touched, history was made, and love endured throughout any given individuals life.  

Death is a natural part of life. It's hard on those of us who have to move forward without the companionship of our loved ones but I think that we owe it to them to celebrate a life well lived. We owe the widows, the children, and the friends of the deceased the opportunity to know that our lives were touched, our hearts were changed, or simply that we are better people for having known the person who is missing from our gathering that day.

I can't even begin to put into words how much we'll miss Uncle K. He was a unique individual (as all of the Anderson's are truly, amazingly, hilariously unique). Watching the Anderson siblings was more entertaining than any television show I've ever seen. Aunt Barbara, Aunt Betty, Uncle K, and Larry - I keep trying to type what it's like watching this group and the words won't come. They are close. They play tricks on each other (especially Barbara and K). I hope my boys are that close when they are grown.  There's so much I'd like to say, but the words just won't come in any coherent form- except- Sam is rotten, and sweet, joking, and serious... and he very much reminds me of K. Every time we'd see K and Sam would be ornery (which occurs pretty much every day) I'd blame K- and he would grin.


Mrs. B. Roth said...

So, Uncle Kay's funeral left something to be desired? Alas. LDS funerals kind of suck, sometimes. Hijacked as missionary opportunites for those living who may have strayed off the path, trying to shepherd those in pain and grief back towards God. Sometimes it just rubs one the wrong way.

I'm totally planning my own funeral, writing the life sketch and the sermon and then there WILL be the passing of the microphone. And music. I'm totally putting together a playlist. And if the church won't let my funeral be done MY way, pay the funeral parlor, who cares. I'm dead, do it my way for ONCE.

Amy said...

I understand the idea that funerals are really for the living, but I still don't understand the ones like you described either.

It could be that my family is kind of odd (or morbid) I'm not sure. I mean we all expect and request cremation, so we don't think of an actual funeral, especially not a viewing. At my grandpa's funeral we all sat and discussed our wishes, even going so far as joking about sending parts of my parents ashes in vials to those who couldn't attend the memorial party for them. Then when my Grandma passed away we had to open the container that held her ashes and see them. It was oddly interesting.

But I think what makes our quirks less weird is that we are all confident in our faith and in the knowledge that what we were laughing and joking about is not the "person we loved" it's just the shell that once held what we loved. We all knew that the soul we loved is safe and secure with God. So from there we are able to celebrate the gift we were given to know, love and to have that person in our lives. Mostly we just share stories. Of course we also sing, because music play such an important part of celebrating and comfort in the church. In fact one of our favorite songs is this:

I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry

I was there to hear your borning cry,
I'll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
to see your life unfold.
I was there when you were but a child,
with a faith to suit you well;
In a blaze of light you wandered off
to find where demons dwell."

"When you heard the wonder of the Word
I was there to cheer you on;
You were raised to praise the living Lord,
to whom you now belong.
If you find someone to share your time
and you join your hearts as one,
I'll be there to make your verses rhyme
from dusk 'till rising sun.

In the middle ages of your life,
not too old, no longer young,
I'll be there to guide you through the night,
complete what I've begun.
When the evening gently closes in,
and you shut your weary eyes,
I'll be there as I have always been
with just one more surprise.

I was there to hear your borning cry,
I'll be there when you are old.
I rejoiced the day you were baptized,
to see your life unfold.

jugglingpaynes said...

First, I'm so sorry for your loss. Uncle K. sounded like a lot of fun.
I've attended quite a number of funerals in my almost 18 years of marriage. I think funerals tend to mirror the attendants. I've been lucky to have a fun loving family, so when it comes to funerals, there is some laughter to soften the sadness of loss. I didn't understand that as a child, but it is very good and useful to spend the wake reminiscing about the funny anecdotes and the funeral is spent saying goodbye.
Many of my relatives set up collages of photos and any clippings or scrapbooks of memories from our loved one. My Uncle Ed collected favorite comic strips. Tio Ramon was a bartender and snazzy dresser. Aunt Alice held the family together and was the spiritual anchor. She left close knit children just like your relatives. These are the things that make funerals a celebration of life well lived.

If you felt the funeral was lacking, I suggest a memorial, perhaps on his next birthday or a holiday. You can tell stories or collect mementos into a scrapbook or memory box so that your family can remember the happy times.

My apologies for the length of this.
Peace and Healing,

Jake camping in the living room

Jake camping in the living room