Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Funeral or Farewell Party?


Have you already planned your funeral?

Not that I know some big secret about how much time you still have left here on Earth.  I'm not suggesting there's any urgency for your funeral planning.  So, as my aunt Helena used to say, "not to worry."

She passed away this past summer, by the way, and was remembered with two memorial services.

Nevertheless, since we're on the subject... how much have you thought about your funeral?  Have you already lined up the person (or people) you want to give your eulogy?  Do you have the music picked out for your final fifteen minutes of fame?  Favorite scripture passages you’d like to have read at your memorial?  Maybe the style of your coffin - if you’ve already decided you don’t want to be cremated?  And if you’re getting cremated, have you chosen the urn in which you wish your ashes to be placed?  Some of them can get pretty pricey.

Or maybe you’re doing one of those flashy signature funerals, like being buried in your car, or having your funeral on your favorite hole at your treasured country club?  Maybe you want to have a theme funeral, where all the guests have to wear green, or 1920’s costumes?  You can plan it all online these days, right down to the menu for your guests and gift bags for them to take home.

Have you created a list of charities to which your mourners can donate, in lieu of flowers?  Or do you want fresh flowers splashed about the funeral home, and you’ve already listed out the types of bouquets, sprays and plants you like?

Time was, a funeral was obligatory when somebody died.  And practically since the beginning of time, humans have used graves - whether in the ground, in caves, or in mounds of dirt above the ground - to bury their dead.  Different cultures have different ceremonial elements to mark a person's death, but generally speaking, despite differences in how corpses are treated and the loss of loved ones is mourned, death has been a special time of moral dignity across the human experience.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Lately, however, with the rise of funeral costs and the efficiency of cremation, particularly among Western societies, some folks have begun asking if the conventional funeral might be heading towards relic status?  We Americans, in particular, have gotten commonly casual in our religious observances, what with church attendance being in decline, as well as marriage rates.  Even how we dress at weddings and funerals - not to mention weekly church services - has become far less stuffy than in the past.

From some corners of evangelicalism, cremation has come under fire, if you'll pardon the pun.  Some evangelicals have preached sermons or written articles for Christian magazines fretting about whether burial is more holy than cremation.  Apparently there's something more dignified about burying a corpse than burning it, especially since the Bible uses the imagery of fire when referencing Hell.

Then there's the recent trend of forgoing a funeral altogether.  At least, a funeral in the traditional sense of the term.  Although there are no hard numbers, end-of-life professionals have recognized that a small percentage of people are now requesting no funeral at all.  This may be for economic reasons, or for a lack of family, or simply as part of a fad, since celebrities like David Bowie sought privacy by not even allowing his cremation to be publicized.  This funeral-less concept alarms some professional Christians, who fret that since funerals are for the living, not the dead, denying loved ones a chance to grieve is not helpful to the grief process, and could be considered a form of selfishness.

Of course, if too many people opt out of having a funeral, such a decline in the number of funerals professional Christians perform - and for which they are generally remunerated by the deceased's family - could begin to affects them in their pocketbooks.  My aunt's two services were informal affairs in Texas and Florida, with no ordained clergy or funeral home directors in charge.  Years ago, my father conducted two funerals himself for neighbors who believed in Jesus Christ but didn't attend church.

I've come to learn that a will is not as powerful a legal document as it probably used to be, but for whatever weight it still conveys, mine stipulates that I want no funeral.  I understand that funerals are for those left behind, not for the deceased.  And I myself attend many funerals, at least compared with the number of weddings to which I'm invited.

It's not that I have anything against funerals, although they're hardly enjoyable events.  I can appreciate our society's general use of the funeral ceremony to convey respect and acknowledgement of life's mysterious importance.

And believe me:  My love of classical corporate worship would lend itself quite effectively towards crafting quite the magnificent funeral service, if I were so inclined.  Think "O Love of God, How Strong and True," which is an epic hymn; or "For All the Saints," a glorious funeral anthem; plus "Be Still, My Soul," the tear-jerker sung to Finlandia, a must for any Finnish believer's funeral.

But, as the kids today say... "Meh..."

Iva Roxburgh and me
at my father's memorial service,
just about a year ago.
Iva passed away yesterday
at age 101.
Part of my indifference about having a funeral for myself likely stems from my being unmarried, and having no children.  If I live long enough and eventually managed to encounter a woman grounded enough to tolerate me full-time, I suppose one's spousal unit generally gets the last word when it comes to things like funerals.  But in the meantime, I'm not holding my breath.  Or planning my funeral.

Today is the one-year anniversary of my father's death from Alzheimer's.  Yesterday, a 101-year-old friend of mine passed away.  A close friend of our family's is battling stage four cancer.  Indeed, as they say, death is a part of life.

And it's not that I'm afraid of dying.  I'm not looking forward to the process of dying, especially if takes an arduous course like my Dad's did.  But I believe that "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8).  So, at least as I discuss it theoretically like this, and not while I know I'm staring it in the face, death "holds no sting" for me.  And I say that honestly and truthfully.

Of course, if any of y'all still want to have a party after I'm gone, I won't be around to stop you.  But if you do, just try not to celebrate too heartily over my passing and absence.

A little decorum, please!


1 comment:

  1. My oh my, Tim! Has it already been a year since your father's passing? I kinda remembered it being closer to Christmas. Those anniversaries can be difficult, so I'll be thinking of you and your mom. Yeah, I'm definitely leaning more toward a small, informal thing -- not that I've thought a lot about it. Just want my family and friends to feel good about it. Being a lover of nature, I'd like to have some sort of 'green' funeral. I like that whole cycle of life thing, and maybe my ashes could help a little tree grow. I figure once I'm gone, I'm really outa here.

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