Jul 222014 3 Responses

Always Attend the Funeral

On a regular basis I stand before a grieving family, beside a casket, and speak about life and death. As I do, I’m always reminded I could be just 72 hours away from either sitting on the front row or lying in the casket.

We are all going to die. It’s a truth we know, but one we rarely realize. We live in denial of our mortality, in part, as a defense mechanism. The frailty of life could lead to great despair. To avoid the despair, we often live in denial.

Yet neither despair or denial are useful. While we shouldn’t live in a constant state of depression from the possibility of our death, we should live with an extreme awareness that our lives are temporary and our time is finite. (See: Read This Before You Die)

This is one of the benefits of regularly officiating funerals. While I could live in denial of the frailty of my life, I would have to work hard to do so. Because I regularly officiate funerals, I am regularly reminded of the frailty of life.

And it makes me a better pastor. It reminds me what is truly important. It puts into context the frustrations of life. It challenges me to fight for only those things which are truly important. It educates me on the pains and sorrows which are being endured by so many people.

But it doesn’t just help me do my job; hopefully it helps me become a better husband, father, and person.

When we are unaware of our mortality, we lose the context of our lives. Issues which lack importance can seem important. Actions and activities which should be the most important in our lives can be seen as insignificant. (For two funny looks at a funeral read: Ashes to Ashes and And After the Funeral She Hit Him in the Nuts)

Show me someone living in denial of their mortality and I’ll show you someone who is incapable of identifying what has real value.

For this reason, you should always attend the funeral.

When a friend, loved one, acquaintance, co-worker, or neighbor dies, you should always attend the funeral.

Not only is it respectful of the dead and shows support for the family, but it also serves as a reminder to you that you are not immortal.

Without being reminded we will get so wrapped up into our day-to-day lives that we will forget the truth about humanity—our lives are fleeting. Left to ourselves, we will never face the deep truths of life. The issue of the day will trump the issue of life and we will live in a constant state of denial.

I routinely see it. A person lives for decades unaware of the common-sense truth that one day he will die. Then suddenly, through a tragedy, diagnosis or illness, he is shaken to the core. He is unprepared because he hasn’t regularly dealt with his own frailty. (See: How Some Soar Through Suffering)

We need reminders. While those reminders can come in several forms, attending funerals is one of the best.

As we watch a person’s life in pictures, hear of their successes and failures, see their grieving family, and interact with their hurting friends, we are reminded that death is a universal experience. It will challenge us to consider our priorities and passions. Are we doing what is important? Are we loving what should be loved? Are we living our lives in such a way that we will have very few regrets when life ends?

These questions do not get asked unless we are reminded of the brevity of life. (See: I Almost Died Rear-ending a Hearse)

It is tempting to skip a funeral. We live lives with too many demands and expectations. Skipping a funeral buys us an hour we often cannot afford to lose. However, when we skip a funeral we might gain an hour, but we lose a perspective which only the experience of grief can bring.

Funerals offer two important reminders:

1. They remind us of the sweetness of life. It’s easy to take life for granted. Attending a funeral can awaken our senses to the simple beauties of our everyday lives—the love of a spouse or child, the kindness of a friend, the beauty of a sunny day, the satisfaction of a job well done, etc. Eulogies, funeral sermons, and pictures rarely recount the topics which often dominate our normal days. Instead, they focus on many of the things which we take for granted. Death calls attention to what is truly important in life. Seeing it in another person’s life can help us realize it in our own lives.

2. They remind us of the vanity of life. We often give value to the wrong things. Attending a funeral can remind us that money, houses, and other possessions do not really matter. They cannot save us from tragedy and they do not bring a true sense of identity or meaning. They remind us of things we often overvalue; job titles, 401k balances, win/loss records, and a variety of other issues which get our focus in everyday life do not seem nearly as important as someone lies  in a casket.

Funeral attendance is declining in many cultures. In the days of old, entire towns would shut down when a person died. Today, many friends and some family do not even take off an hour to show their respects. Not only does this disrespect the dead and their grieving families, but it also has a profound influence on our lives. When we remove ourselves from death and grief, we are often deceived into thinking it will not impact us.

 

3 Responses to Always Attend the Funeral
  1. Caleb Reply

    Growing up as a pastor’s kid I went to a lot of funerals. When I looked back on it, it seems like that was a good thing in my life. It really helped me to understand my mortality and also not to fear death because I knew I had Jesus!

  2. […] I don’t have to tell everything, but I do have to tell the truth. Sadly, others do not hold to... kevinathompson.com/lies-tell-others-death
  3. […] Attend a funeral. A child’s first funeral should not be of a grandparent or close relative. So... kevinathompson.com/children-death-learning-grieve

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