Sorry to talk about funerals again – I do a lot of thinking about funerals, I find it a really rich and wonderful area of ministry. People often say to me that they would hate to do my job because of the funerals aspect, normally the bereaved, but funnily enough I find bereaved people minister to me and teach me so much about God and life. I think they would be surprised by this.
I was really affected by the lost yachtsman who came from Farnham, his death came right after another young person who suddenly lost his life and it felt like the whole town was grieving. It struck me that there wouldn’t be a funeral without a body, and of course there would be no opportunity for the family to see their deceased relative. For me, I think the reality of the dead body of my loved one helps with my grief. I used to regularly have dreams that mum was alive and when I woke in the night, confused and distressed, I would remember the day when I drove to the hospital to see my dead mother, and that helped me resolve my confusion so many times.
Then I read this lovely piece by Nancy – On not having a Funeral. Her mum donated her body to medical research and she thought it would be a good thing not to have the coffin there at the service, but it left Nancy struggling to gain closure. I’m sure I would feel the same way.
For me, the healing aspect of a funeral is twofold. The first is the impact of sitting in front of the coffin for half an hour and recognising that the person is dead, my gaze keeps getting drawn back to the coffin and I find myself thinking, “Oh my God, they are dead and I’m not going to see them ever again in this life.” The second is recognising that the person in the coffin was human – they were good and bad, loving and fearful, perhaps a drunk, perhaps compassionate, perhaps anti-social, perhaps inspiring, perhaps lonely, perhaps faithful, perhaps adaptable. Whoever they were, the sum of their life describes something authentic about the human condition and God loves them and loves us just as we are, warts and all. I know this completely and absolutely during a funeral service and it makes me weep with gratitude, God is such an amazing lover of us all.
So what is the point of a funeral for you?