Since the beginning of May, I have been to nine funerals. Some of the lives the gathered community held up to God in thanks and with sadness were older people, some had died suddenly of heart attacks, one woman had committed suicide, others died after a short, dramatic illness. In each case, the funeral was done with great dignity and care by the presider, readers, homilist, musicians and leaders of prayer. The deceased, as a child of God, deserved the best the community could offer.
Wakes, vigil services and funerals are times to help console the ones left behind. Some people today choose cremation and no wake or wake service. The deceased have a right to that choice. The other side of that choice which people may want to consider is no wake with a body in the coffin denies family, friends, coworkers one last treasured glimpse of the loved one. When the deceased him/herself says “no wake” it, deprives the family of meeting people – strangers -- whom the deceased knew in life. What will you do? It’s current in our society to want to multiply words of remembrance (a.k.a. eulogies) at some point in the liturgy. In that setting, it’s often too much. These stories and remembrances can best be told at leisure at the wake, burial site or at the meal afterwards. Let the liturgy stand alone as the lighted Paschal Candle stands alone, or have one speaker to say "My father was a man of faith and this moment is important in his life. Please come to the burial or meal, so we can continue to celebrate with the kind of remembrance and social festivity he would have liked." What will you do?
In addition to being at funerals and wakes, twice, during the last month, two people asked me to help them put together the details for their funeral liturgies. These people wanted what they wanted. Both of them, married with adult children, knew that, left on their own, their children might make other choices. The details of our funerals are our last choices in life. It’s important that we honor our loved ones, attending to the desires that arise from their strong faith and important relationships.
How old are you, anyway? Have you ever thought about your own funeral – what you would like for readings or songs? You may say you are too young for such thoughts and want to put them off for as long as possible, hoping at the same time to put off their realization as long as possible. But these thoughts are not death-wishes. They are valuable insights into your own life, and its meaning for yourself and others. Revisions ahead can be many, but for now think of what you will do.
The next time you go to a funeral, dress up in honor of the deceased. During the service, don’t daydream. Listen carefully to the words. Take in the gestures of the ritual. Watch to see the reverence with which the coffin/cremains are treated. Would this be a funeral you would like for yourself?
~ Sister Joan Sobala