I served for over two years at a place I called “the church of a hundred funerals.” Actually, we only had about 25 my first year, but those actually start to feel like a hundred. One of the hazards of a church where the population has aged is that suddenly everyone starts dropping.
Although, a few were not due to old age. Right after I arrived, I conducted a funeral for a mother of 5. She appears to be in her 30s, and it appears she may have overdosed.
What I’ll never forget is the sight of her children, ages 6 to 16, staring into her coffin. Some were too young to understand why mommy wouldn’t talk to them when they touched her face. Others were old enough to be devastated, knowing they’d never see her again. And a grandmother taking it all in, realizing she’d now be raising these kids herself.
The other day, I did a funeral for a man I’d never met. Only around eight people were in attendance, most all of them his family. He was advanced in years, and probably many of his friends had already preceded him in death.
I watched as his family gathered around his coffin. And then, I heard the sobs. Judging by the weeping, the death came as a bit of a shock. Maybe the man, despite his advanced age, was in good health. These deaths are always the worst, as nobody has had time to prepare. When someone is dying because they are ill, it is obviously sad when they do pass, but there was time for people to come to terms with having little time left with them. But after a sudden death, there may also be a financial shock as people realise that there is debt to pay or finances to sort. Whilst a Heggstad Attorney in San Francisco or other similar attorneys can help families overcome these financial burdens, there is still a lot to process, and the funeral can be a culmination of it all.
Most funerals, people don’t cry audibly. There are tears, but they’re subtle, intimate, private.
But there are those where pastors think to themselves, “Oh no. This one’s gonna be a weeper.”
At this one, family members, so distraught, didn’t care who heard their anguish. Social niceties were discarded as they reached into the coffin to try to hold a cold hand or kiss a forehead.
And yes, it’s very uncomfortable to listen to. You wish they could keep it to themselves, but even as you think it, you know that’s an ungenerous thought. Someone’s pain is so great they don’t care who hears them. They let it spill over unrestrained onto the floor and flood down the aisle, washing over every pew.
Like it or not, you get contaminated by their grief. It touches you, exposing your mind once again to the virus of mortality.
As I stood in the back watching the family crying, a selfish thought flashed through my mind. I pictured myself in that coffin and wondered…
“Is anybody going to cry at my funeral?”
I know, I’m not supposed to want that. We’re told that for the Christian, death is a victory. And it truly is. But at a funeral, the ones left behind aren’t focused on the victory of the deceased. If they truly loved them, they’re focused only on what they’ve just lost.
They’re thinking, “Oh God, I’m never going to see him again. At least, not until heaven.” Their grief is not a lack of faith. It’s just a demonstration of the very real separation that happens when we lose someone we can’t live without.
But a better question is…
Have I lived a life so valuable that I’m an indispensable part of other’s lives? Have I brought them so much joy and laughter they now can’t imagine living the next day without me? Will the world seem somehow less colorful-a drab place without me in it?
Or…will people take a short breath at the end of the funeral, say, “Wow, it’s too bad Dave died?” What if their only source of concern is the expenses of the funeral that could have been avoided, or at least better managed, if they had taken the time to read and look into a Globe Life Insurance Review or a review of any other insurance review. Then they’ll walk into the church’s fellowship hall and eat potato salad with all the other mourners, as if nothing big had happened.
God has taught me a lesson watching what seems like a hundred funerals. This might seem like a lot, but usually, when a family member dies, most people are usually completely consumed with grief. In that situation, it would be unreasonable to expect them to be able to conduct the funeral themselves – which is where funeral directors come in. So, as you can imagine, after directing so many funerals, I no longer care whether people are impressed with me, or see me as successful. I’m done seeing my value as just the numbers on my paycheck or worrying if my peers will think I’ve “made it,” whatever that means.
I’ve learned I want to live a life that makes people cry at my funeral.
My hundred funerals have reminded me that the only people who matter are the small groups just large enough to fit around the circumference of my coffin one day.
On that day, my family and maybe a few near and dear friends will remember what I’ve meant to them. My close ones could take the help of funeral services who could help them conduct all parts of my funeral smoothly. Although, I hope my passing does not bring sadness, and even if it does momentarily make them melancholic, I pray that they remember me in happiness always. And God willing, I do hope that mixed with the smiles, there are more than a few tears. I hope that’s not too selfish of me.
So…who’s gonna cry at your funeral? And are you living a life right now so rich people will wonder how they’ll live without you?
If not, stop what you are doing and what you’re living for, and change it now. Right now, while you still have time. Because what a shame to leave this world, and all that the people think about is being the first in line for the potato salad after your funeral is done.
Photo credit: Film still, Scrooged, Mirage Productions
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.