This afternoon I attended a funeral—my second in a week. It seems that I’m attending funerals much more frequently these days. I would attribute that to my age, but a much younger friend confided that she, too, has lately attended what seems an unfair number of funerals. So maybe this isn’t just an age-related phenomenon. Maybe it also can be tied to the number of friends and relatives with whom we have been blessed.
Whatever the reasons behind this frequency of funerals, I’ve made a surprising discovery about these most solemn of services: Namely, they aren’t really that solemn anymore. They are true celebrations of life. The few funerals I attended as a child followed a clear-cut format: sad songs, prayers, a sermon with some scriptures about life eternal and a heavenly home, a farewell to the deceased with a promise we would one day be re-united. I’m sure all of that brought comfort to the grieving family and should still be a part of every service. But at more recent funerals, I’ve noticed another element has been added—an opportunity to know the deceased in a way few of us were able to while he or she was alive. Whether it’s through a video, a display of family pictures, testimonies of friends, or the opportunity to chat with family, I have learned so much more about the departed. And I’ve learned about the “extraordinary-ness” of those who lived what I previously considered ordinary lives. I’ve learned about dedicated teachers who touched students’ lives in ways few people realized while they were living. I’ve learned of men who served selflessly in the military both during times of war and peace. I’ve learned of individuals who struggled through difficult childhoods to become devoted parents who valued family. And I’ve laughed. Yes, I’ve shed tears of laughter as friends and family recounted those funny acts, accidents, and antics that make the departed all the more endearing to us. I’ve left services such as this saddened yet uplifted, determined to appreciate life and people more.
This post is not in any way meant to trivialize the sense of loss that accompanies a loved one’s death. Grief is painful, eased only by time and faith, and never completely erased. But perhaps the hurting can be alleviated in some small way by the realization that even in death those dear to us still provide hope and inspiration for the living.