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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Funerals, Again

I have to go to a funeral this coming Friday. There seem to have been a lot of funerals in my life, more friends than family. When I was only nineteen, a middle-aged woman I worked with said to me that being my friend was not a good thing because it seemed like all my friends die. I protest. This is not true--most of my friends are still alive!

I know what I like in a funeral and what I dread. The funerals for younger people are usually the dreadful ones. The speeches are often full of grief and shock, not comfort, and there's a tendency to emphasize the sadness expressed by the phrase "life cut short"---even when the survivors profess to believe in the Christian Resurrection and eternal life. I experience a cognitive disconnect when I hear those kinds of funeral addresses and come away sad, not for the death, but for the lack of faith and hope.

The funerals I've been to where the people have no belief at all for a life beyond the grave are the hardest, for the grief-stricken have no hope of reunion and seem sometimes to be unable to move on. It is painful to watch them struggle afterwards, feeling that there is a remedy, but the times I offered it, it was rejected.

In funerals, I like hearing all about the life of the deceased person, whether I knew him or her well or not. I want to hear about personality traits, quirks, achievements, triumphs, and how the person coped with failure or disaster. I want to hear what was funny and good and positive about the person. I know we are in an age where truth is supposed to trump tact, but I would rather not hear anything ill of the dead, at the funeral.

Next I want to hear, especially at a religious funeral, the story of that person's faith and testimony of the gospel. I want to know what he or she knew. I want an affirmation of the spirit.

I like great music. In lots of Mormon funerals for elderly people, you hear a group of the grandchildren singing "I Am a Child of God," sometimes surprisingly beautifully, sometimes indifferently, and sometimes downright dreadfully. I do love that song, but I wish it wouldn't be presented that way. However, that's probably where I'm over the line, in wishing for aesthetics over the bereaved family's desire to have what they feel would be comforting to them.

It's my problem that I'm logical, not emotional. I dislike sentimentality most of the time. I like reason and facts. I acknowledge the role of emotion in people's decisions, but that doesn't always make me like the result.

I should limit this whole discussion to what I would like if I were to plan a funeral for myself. I liked what my parents did with my brother's funeral. It had most all the elements I liked, and the open microphone at the end was great, because it gave me the pleasant surprise of hearing how he helped other people, far beyond what I knew already, and I always did think he was a caring person who always had been happy to help others. I just never knew how much until that day. I love that memory, sort of the capstone to the great memories I have of him in life.

I liked my dad's funeral for the feeling of happiness that he was now where he was supposed to be--with his son and parents and granddaughter and aunt and all those he loved and missed. There have been so many times since that I have seemed to feel his presence, helping me out with things, that I haven't grieved more than to miss him now and then. The missing is always followed by the feeling of rightness and "presence."

My husband once said he wants his niece to sing "The Holy City" at his funeral, and I think he also wants our neighbor Kevin to sing "How Great Thou Art." I guess I'd better find out! I like my husband's taste so much that I think I'll just copy him.

I want someone to give a great sermon on faith and hope at my funeral. I once went to hear my grandpa preach a sermon in the Disciples of Christ church about faith, and it was a wonderful sermon. I want someone to share how much I loved the teachings of Jesus, especially the ones about loving others and being doers of the word (and they better not say how far short I fell in measuring up to those teachings or I will come and haunt them for sure).

I don't want an open casket. I hate that part. I avoid looking at the body if I can, but if I can't avoid it, it feels rather rude, like looking when someone would not want you to see them. As my friend Karen once described it, it's the empty shell. It seems meaningless without the soul, and the soul is what I miss, what I mourn if we were close. If my casket is open, I'll really be mad! (I know how to circumvent that: I'll specify no embalming. Then they'll have to bury me by the next day, and they can hold the funeral or memorial service later, with pictures of me that look halfway decent. So really, it comes down to vanity, huh?)

Whoever gives my life sketch, I hope they make it halfway interesting. I feel that my life has so far been a great adventure; I wouldn't like to listen in and find myself being described in a boring, overly sentimental way. Yuck. I am sure I would find a way to protest.

My good friend Vickie who died years ago wrote a file on what she wanted her family to do in the event of her death. She wrote it a few years before she died, but her death was very sudden and unexpected, so the file has taken on an aura of presentiment that we really don't know that she felt at all. I hope nobody will find this blog entry to be anything of a portent, because it isn't. Everybody who knows me well knows that I have been writing funeral plans for myself since I was a teenager, decades ago. How much of an omen could all these plans be? I'm sure I'll die sometime, and then I can be said to be very prophetic and prepared!

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