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 looked to be in her 30s, and it appeared she may have overdosed.
What I’ll never forget is the sight of her children, ages 6 to 16, staring into her coffin. Some too young to understand why mommy wouldn’t talk to them when they touched her face. Others 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.
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?” And then, they’ll walk into the church’s fellowship hall and eat potato salad with all the others mourners, as if nothing big had happened.
God’s taught me a lesson watching what seems like a hundred funerals. I no longer care whether people are impressed with me, or see me as successful. I’m done with 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 the only people who matter are the small group just large enough to fit around the circumference of my coffin one day.
On that day, my family and maybe a few close friends will remember what I’ve meant to them. 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