Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Funeral Thoughts

Granny Franny (so she came to be called) died on Friday at the age of 102. She also was blessed to have the perfect death: peaceful, in her sleep, with her family gathered around her. One of her sons held her hand through that night, and when he woke up, she was dead but her left hand was back by her head, as if she was waving. He marveled at what a gift that had been for him. Truly a perfect death.

Pastor invited me to go with him to the funeral after the church council meeting so I could observe what went on at such a service from a more objective point of view. Actually, I had never before been to a funeral (though I’ve been to a couple memorial services), not even for my own grandfather when he died almost 10 years ago. Walking into the funeral parlor, there wasn’t the oppressively sad air that I had been expecting. Instead, there was a lot of laughter, with a twinge of sadness. People looked fondly at the open casket where Fran lay peacefully, looking exceptionally well for 102 (everyone said that in life, she never ever looked her age). I sat in the back so as not to disturb those who were really there for Fran and the family.

Pastor used the liturgy from the Book of Worship, adapting where necessary, and editing out much of the pain and grief language present. In some ways, this was a very happy occasion – a celebration of her life and a public acknowledgement that she was in heaven. The eulogy was short, as pastor wanted to have plenty of room for her two sons to speak, but pastor did give a short picture of her life along with (what I assume to be) the standard funeral fare and talked about her sharp wit, self-effacing humor, and the feeling that you were always home in her presence. From this, and from the stories that her two sons shared, I sincerely wished that I had had the opportunity to know her.

At one point during his eulogy, I noticed tears running down my face. The scene conjured up for me a time when my own grandfather died out in Ohio during my high school years. I don’t even remember why my siblings and I didn’t go; perhaps my parents didn’t feel like it was appropriate for us to miss school. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a choice made on our part; I don’t remember a choice being given anyway. But in that moment, I felt a powerful sense of the loss of my grandfather and my own personal need for closure. I also felt the powerful sense that one day, I too will have to bury my parents, and this really troubled me.

As a pastor, I will be expected to perform funerals and to comfort people in their time of grief. I will not be able to do that unless I have come to terms with the lingering grief I’m experiencing from my grandfather’s death. If every funeral scene sparks memories of my grandfather and I am unable to lay that aside, I don’t feel like I will be able to be present for the people who need me most at that time. In order for me to more fully grow as a pastoral leader, this is an issue that I will have to deal with. I will also have to learn how to see death as a part of life. While it is true that not all deaths are as perfect nor as peaceful as Fran’s, there was something holy about her death that is present in many other deaths as well. I will have to learn how to see the sacramental in the process of dying – and Fran’s death has given me a perfect start.


Kristen said...

It is very hard to see death as a blessing or as anything positive. Again it is very hard to know how to be there for others during times of greiving when we ourselves haven't had a chance to witness a funeral or greive for those we've lost. Its definately a hard moment and I too will have to learn how to deal/help in those times. - best of luck and God Bless.


Melissa said...


It is difficult. But there definitely are some times when death is a very negative thing: war, murder, horrible accidents...

I miss you too! :-)

Anonymous said...

great insight. Some funerals are much harder than others in part because they touch our own grief or fear. A part of being a pastor is learning how to be present with others during a funeral and then processing our own personal grief in an appropriate way.

Anonymous said...

Just a note: grandpa died June 2000.