• December 18, 2014

Funeral offers lessons in living

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Posted: Friday, July 19, 2013 4:30 am

Like most people, I’ve never really enjoyed going to funerals. By and large, they tend to be somber occasions, especially for the families and close friends of the departed.

I’ve probably attended about two dozen funerals in my lifetime, but as is the case with people, I’ve learned that no two funerals are alike. Some services are dry, sedate and humorless. Others are filled with funny anecdotes and well-told stories.

The funerals that honor the lives of people who have lived rich, full lives feel more satisfying — more like a celebration. And why not? There’s nothing like seeing several rows of children and grandchildren at the service to know the departed family member had a life full of love.

But it’s extremely unsatisfying to gather to remember someone, only to hear dry, sterile eulogies and impersonal prayers. I’ve been to a few of those, and it’s disheartening.

Funerals don’t necessarily have to be entertaining, but they should leave everyone feeling they are glad they came.

Overall, the best services are those where you come away having gained insight into the life of the person who has left this world.

I attended one such funeral recently.

I anticipated a difficult service, since the parents of the young man who died are close friends of mine and my wife’s. And over the years, we had watched their son grow from a fun-loving pre-teen into adulthood. He was a gregarious, optimistic guy who always wore a smile and had a story to tell when he met up with us for a meal.

Yet he died suddenly while at home — taken from this world at far too young an age, and leaving a tremendous void in his parents’ lives.

A few days later, at his funeral, his godfather offered stories of their adventures together and recounted the good times they had shared. The humorous anecdotes had us smiling through our tears.

Later, the young man’s former youth minister offered her fond recollections of his years in the church’s youth group. She also read some poignant posts that his friends had left on his Facebook page. One after another, the posts remembered the man for his infectious smile, his positive outlook and his willingness to offer help to those in need.

Though his life was one that was all too short, it was obviously one that was well-lived.

Our pastor offered some valuable insight as well. She acknowledged that our lives don’t always magically heal after a loved one is ripped away from us. But she encouraged us to share our love by doing for others, and dedicate those acts of generosity to the memory of those whom we’ve lost.

Perhaps that really is the best way to carry our departed loved one with us through life.

When we strip away the formal trappings of a funeral service — the prayers, the music, the somber attire — we are left with some simple truths. We all die, we all suffer loss, and we all do well to lean on each other in our time of grief.

And as we may also learn — as with the passing of our young friend — that it’s not how you die that matters, so much as how you live.

At funerals, we often hear that the departed is in a better place. In our young friend’s case, I believe he truly is.

But just as importantly, he made this world a better place while he was in it. And that is cause for celebration, as well.

I’d really rather not attend any more funerals for a while. My wife and I have lost too many family members and good friends in recent years. Of course, it’s not something we have any control over. Our times are in God’s hands; that’s just something we have to accept.

It’s not easy dealing with loss, though it’s just part of life, especially as we get older. But if we can help each other get through it together, it’s just a little bit easier to bear.

And that’s one of the reasons we need funerals, isn’t it?

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