Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No Weddings and 2 Funerals

This morning I went to back-to-back funerals. That's a first. I hope it's a last as well. There are people in life who, I don't want to say "enjoy" such rites, but don't mind attending as many as necessary. In some places in the south, the food offered afterward is the main draw. Hi, sorry your family member where's the fried chicken and potato salad? I've also heard the occasional widow mention it's a good place to meet other singles.

Insert *shudder* here.

I usually find ways to make funeral attendance "non-mandatory". Working with senior citizens means I've gone to more funerals than I care to admit...and I don't go to all of them. Today's first funeral was for the spouse of one of my group, the second was my brother's father-in-law. In both cases, I was there to support the families more than pay my respect to the dearly departed. After all funerals, they say, are really for the living. To remind them that life will one day not feel this dark and you'll still be there to help them celebrate life when the time comes. Sure, it's difficult to show respect when a preacher begins extolling the virtues of sainthood on some guy who was a real SOB when he dwelt amongst the living. The most interesting thing I learned today is exactly what I DON'T want someone saying when I shuffle off this mortal coil. Today's funerals had two, distinctly different styles: joyfully respectful and very religious.

I suggest you write your own jokes now, people and chose music that would make you smile.

The first funeral was joyful, funny, and slightly irreverent at times but everyone left feeling better. There were more heartfelt laughs than tears, mostly because the minister had been a college friend of the daughter and had personal stories to tell. It was truly a celebration of someone's life, detailing highs and lows, but always ending on the positive. The deceased was of the generation that worked hard to provide for his family and didn't think it necessary to hug and declare his undying love on a regular basis. By the time this minister was finished, everyone had glimpsed moments of that love.

The second funeral was the kind that makes me shudder. I was raised in a Baptist church and although I no longer attend church, I still believe in God and I think He believes in me. Susan will understand why, after the minister's opening remarks I whispered in my head, "Um Lord, I'd like to apologize in advance for what I'm thinking. I can't help it. You gave us a brain. Mine was wired grammatically correct. I'm trying not to squirm every time the man uses the wrong verb tense."

I squirmed because the second minister mentioned in passing a basic facts about the dearly departed before launching into what I call "the recruitment" portion of the service. That's where a token attempt has been made to console the family before the minister explains the concept of hellfire and damnation to those in our midst who might not be believers. You know, to each his own. But it bugged me even when I was a kid when a minister would use the open wounds of a recent death to scare folks into booking passage to heaven. The only thing missing is the passing of the collection plate. I learned two things during this service: that anyone who invokes the dreary passages "Death, where is thy sting?" or "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust" will be haunted by yours truly until I forget why to haunt them. And I discovered where, "Oh ye of little faith" originated.

Of all the scriptures shared today, one stuck because it struck a cord in the storyteller in me.

Rather than choose the usual biblical passages, Minister #1 chose one from Exodus, as folks are following Moses to the Promised Land. No, it had nothing to do with riches in the kingdom of heaven. It was a reminder that Moses had promised Joseph, who died before the journey's end, that he would take Joseph's bones along on that journey, so Joseph could indeed reach the Promised Land. Granted, the minister grinned, what they thought was a 3 day journey was a 40 year one, but Joseph's bones made the trip. Because Moses promised. The minister then grinned and said, "I know, what in the world has this got to do with the deceased? Think of those bones as memories. Moses promised to keep Joseph's memory alive...the bones were symbolic of that."

For those of us who love family history, that's a cool thought. We don't have to drag the bones around, but we should keep the memories with us, no matter where we go.

I'd rather be thought of some day as a collection of memories than as a pile of ashes waiting to turn to dust.


Susan said...

Wow, what a day. At the risk of sounding like one of those where's-the-fried-chicken people: "hey, you got two funerals out of the same dress, excellent".

I know, I know. I apologise!

The only specific thing I remember about my father's funeral, were all the words that were intended to comfort but instead made me laugh (after trying not to). For instance, one of my Dad's friends told me that God must have needed a good mechanic, because he'd called home the best. (You can't help wondering what model is God driving these days...) In the end, laughing was a huge comfort.

I saw a funeral procession walk by last week, and I remarked to my husband that funerals used to be black-clad and solemn, and now they look like a party: people laughing and talking, and wearing ordinary (if professional or dressy) clothes. Then it occured to me that these days, family so rarely get to see each other, that even when the occasion is a funeral, it IS joyous, for the reunions in it.

I don't know if that makes me happy or sad.

Rachel Fox said...

Hellfire and can't be all bad...

shug said...

At least there's no limbo, anymore. Got to look at the bright side.

Dave King said...

I agree with you that funerals are for the living. For that reason I would jib at choosing my hymns and jokes. They won't help me and might not go down well with those I should be supporting. Hope it's your last back-to-back.

Ken Armstrong said...

I like the metaphor of carrying the bones with you. It's good that.