Frustrating Funeral

May 15, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More

I have been to quite a few funerals in the last several years. Most of them were for elderly relatives. Some few of these funerals annoyed me because the master of ceremonies was a minister who apparently knew little of the departed, and so just delivered a half hour recruiting speech for his church, and called no other witnesses.

This weekend I went to the funeral of a cousin by marriage, my own age, who suddenly dropped dead. The processional music was appropriate for the deceased: “Margaritaville.” So I was looking forward to the service. A relative stood up at the lectern and said that this was to be a celebration of life. More hope rose.

But what followed was twenty minutes of pious speech about how important it is for everyone to love Jesus, especially since this life is not the important one, but rather the next. Eventually he wound down and briefly mentioned a couple of actual details from the life nominally the topic of this occasion.

I knew that his family partook of that popular death cult, Fundamentalist Christianity. But my few conversations with the suddenly departed never led me to believe that he took that afterlife very seriously. He seemed a live-life-to-the-fullest sort who embodied the Martin Luther quote: “Who loves not wine, women and song, Remains a fool his whole life long.”

So this service by someone who knew him did not strike me as entirely appropriate. Granted, it did match the services I’d attended for his elder relatives, and did not seem to discommode his closer family. I see there is a sociological purpose to sharing ridiculous claims, and of being reassured by authority figures that these absurdities are true, especially at times of stress. It is a form of claiming kinship, of affirming loyalty to an in-group.

But to me, a funeral should be a celebration of a life, a sharing of a personality and experiences. It annoys me when the service primarily focuses on recruiting for a church, and as an aside, oh, yeah, this man also had an individual life.

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About the Author ()

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

Comments (4)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Dan: Here's a solution you suggested earlier: Grab the microphone and take over. http://dangerousintersection.org/2010/11/19/funer

    What you have written about irritates me too. If only the dead person could sit up one last time and tell those people in charge of funerals to cut it out.

    BTW, I have been to several funeral services where it was a celebration of who the deceased actually was. None of those have occurred in a church, however. In fact, I think that the less planning goes into a funeral, the better. My suggestion would be to open it all up and improvise, and pass around the microphone.

    And have you noticed that people who claim to be CERTAIN that there is a glorious afterlife tend to be the most disturbed by the thought that someone has died. Seems to me that they are not as certain as they claim.

  2. Edgar Montrose says:

    Ah, but the funeral is not for the deceased; it is for those whom they left behind. It is but the first step in the artificial creation of the legend.

  3. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    My father died back in January, just a few days after Erich's father died. He died a few days after his 80th birthday, from cancer. The body was cremated and buried.

    My father never professed any kind of religious belief, and I can’t recall any time he ever went to church, other than the occasional wedding. At the memorial service, the eulogy was delivered by a friend and former coworker of my father. He focued on the good that deeds of my father. No mention of his weaknesses and failures. No preaching, no assurances of a better afterlife.

    I agree with Edgar that the funerals are for the living. The service should promote remembrance of the exemplary actions of the deceased, and encourage the living to forget the failures and shortcomings. Not to build a legend, but to create a positive legacy for the living.

  4. Erika Price says:

    The pomp, the uniformity, the religious overtones, the expense- there are so many features of funerals that seem almost anachronistic. Culturally, we've gotten to the point where weddings can be personalized in a variety of ways, including scrubbing the ceremony of religious themes. Weddings can occur in a variety of locales and on a variety of budgets. They're still a lot of pomp and waste, but at least there is some flexibility in the ritual.

    Funerals haven't gotten to that point yet. I hope that people begin to question the funeral tradition- and start modifying it- very soon. I'm betting that when baby boomers start filling out "pre-need" funeral plans, they'll start to deviate from the dusty, religious norm a little bit. Or the Gen-Xers certainly will. It can't happen soon enough.

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