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Bob Lonsberry

Some Advice For A Funeral

 
Some Advice For A Funeral

My children haven’t been to that many funerals.

Certainly no funerals of relatives.

So Friday when they file into the parish near their grandparents’ to help lay their great-grandmother to rest, it will be a new experience.

A new but universal experience.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, there in a while go we all.

To mourn, and one day to be mourned.

This is advice, from a father to his children, from someone who has sat in chapels and stood by graves, said the words and shed the tears and walked home empty after.

The key is faith. A belief that God lives, that Jesus is his son and our savior, and that death has lost its sting. That everything your senses tell you as you gather to pay your respects is wrong. The dead are not gone, time is not a thief and it doesn’t all end here.

They are not dead, they are merely elsewhere, and one day and forever we will be with them again.

That’s the bottom line. But it is little more than Sunday school recitation, a green pottery, brittle and unsure, until it is fired in the kiln of adversity. That’s a journey, and you have to walk it alone, at your own pace and by your own path.

But the key is faith.

After that, it’s toughness.

In life you’ve got to be tough, in the face of death you’ve got to be tougher.

Though much mocked in this upside-down day, toughness is a virtue. We are given too much to crying and wallowing in our sorrows, real and imagined. We limp from wounding to wounding, as if our relevance is established by the multitude of our emotional boo boos.

Reject that.

You go to funerals to comfort other people. By your steady smile, by your good cheer, by your words and spirit of comfort.

You go to funerals to act in such a way as to dignify this ceremony which honors your flesh and blood.

You go to funerals with a stiff upper lip.

Yes, it’s sad. Yes, there is loss. Yes, it hurts.

But you suck it up and drive on.

Funerals reunite family, they commemorate a life, and they serve as milestones for the future.

Surprisingly – to some – the focus on the deceased is almost secondary. Yes, it is a final honor, a last show of respect, but neither the dead person nor her legacy are affected by flowery words and pretty music.

Funerals are about family. A chance to be together after the separations of life, and a chance to make memories and frames of reference for future interactions.

Even though my children lived far from their great-grandmother and didn’t get to spend much time with her, it is completely right that they converge from across the country for her funeral. Their presence is less about the life she lived and more about the family she left.

The gift we give the dead is to bolster the family they built.

There is a moral obligation to bind family together that rests upon kinfolk at funerals. There can be no feuds or disagreements, no jealousies or grudges. A funeral is a day of jubilee and absolution. All is forgiven, all is new, all is bound together in the reminder that family is forever and family is all that counts.

Have faith, be tough, be of service, focus on family.

And learn something.

Not just about the biography of the deceased, but about the composition of yourself.

As you sit there in a sacred space, in the presence of the remains of a loved one, as the ritual follows its course, open your mind and your heart to what that setting and that event have to teach you.

Funerals are training classes in our own mortality. No one looks upon the dead without contemplating his own death and what comes after. Few bid farewell to a loved one without feeling the veil grow thin and sensing at least a bit of the eternal and divine.

I have also always felt a need at funerals to be robustly alive. As we gather and ponder death, I like to send a shot across its bow. Not boisterousness, not loudness, not carelessness, but vitality. A surer grip, a firmer smile, a warmer heart. Death does not own this room, life does, and I am its ambassador.

Let people feel your spirit.

And let people feel your heart.

Go as angels of light, believers in God, lovers of mankind. Comfort and cheer where you can, hug and console where it’s needed. Honor the dead, support the living, carry on the family tradition.

And it might freak you out.

But that’s OK.

Nobody needs to know.

Go and bury your dead, and live on in their name, as they lived for those whom they had buried.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, there in a while go we all.

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