Monday, August 30, 2004

Thoughts After a Funeral

Tom and I went to a funeral on Friday. It was an especially sad occasion. One of Rose's friends had her mother die suddenly the weekend before. She left behind her husband and their four children, of whom Rose's friend is the oldest at 14. This is the third funeral I have attended in my life. My parents are not religious and three of my grandparents were in their charge when they died, so no observance was made of their passing. One funeral was that of my mother's mother and was really a memorial service more than anything. The second funeral was that of Tom's father and it was glorious in the fullness of tradition with a rosary the night before, visitation, and an open casket funeral. I have rarely found anything so satisfying on so many levels. It doesn't sound proper but you probably know what I mean when I say that it was a wonderful funeral. The funeral on Friday had no rosary or open casket but was also wonderful as a celebration of this mother's life. I was left with two new "funeral observations" afterward.

First, understandably, the Gospel reading was about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Both our priest and the guest speaker mentioned something that had never occurred to me as a lesson from this passage. When Lazarus comes forth from the tomb he is covered with the winding cloths. Jesus tells Mary and Martha to unbind him, to set him free, and to feed him. This is an illustration of what happens after we die. Jesus meets us and we are set free from all that bound us in our earthly life. So simple but I just never looked at it this way. It was particularly apt in this mother's case but there is no one who would not enjoy such a welcome.

Second, as I sang "On Eagles Wings" I started thinking about Tom's mother. She had me pick the readings and songs for his father's funeral, "Nothing from after Vatican II" (no "On Eagles Wings" for him). Ok, I converted only 4 years ago but I knew what she meant. Then she told me to keep the notes and use them for her funeral whenever it should be.

I began contemplating what I would want to happen during my funeral. First of all, no songs later than the 1900's. Have everyone recite the St. Michael prayer before the final benediction (Rose's idea, she was thinking these sorts of thoughts also). Sing the "Ode to Joy" as everyone leaves. Definitely have everyone go to the house for an old fashioned wake, or is that held the night before? Then who would I have speak? Not a family member, that is too hard for them. I thought maybe my best friend, Joan, would be good. She knows me like no other in many ways.

I told Tom about all these ideas on the way to work afterward. He didn't like thinking about it. I think it was because he strongly identified with the plight of the widowed father who now would have to carry on, "One day at a time," as he told us, raising his children alone. For me it was a more academic idea. I found I wasn't the only one like that. When I told Joan my idea, it started a flurry of back and forth emails that detailed what we'd like and what we'd say in tribute of each other. Then she told me about a great PBS special she'd seen recently about dying at home. She's going to rent it and we'll watch it together.

I thought it was interesting that we got pulled into the details so easily. Maybe its because we are both planners. Maybe its a girl thing. Maybe its because we both have seen the power of a good funeral. I'm not sure. But it is interesting.

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget the priest's black vestments!