Sunday, March 15, 2009

Musings from a Funeral

Yesterday we buried my friend Terry. The funeral was huge, I would guess over 1,000 attended the service. I am also happy to say that the service was very functional (as apposed to being dysfunctional). No one shared how Terry had been taken to Heaven because God had a particular job for him there . . . or that God had created all this suffering for a very specific reason (for example, to teach his wife patience). No one said, at least from the podium, "If you really trusted God you would not be sad" (which I've heard at other funerals).

I think one reason that it was functional was that most of the service was conducted by the fire department (where Terry worked) rather than by an Evangelical pastor. Our pastor did do part of the service and he did a good job. But most of the service was reflecting on Terry’s life without the emotional-opium-need to try and find some kind of meaning in such a horrible suffering and death.

Terry's daughters did speak and one said that Terry was glad that he got leukemia because of his experience of the out-pouring of love from his friends. I'm sure Terry did say that but I don't think he really meant it. Sometimes, in tough situations, we say emotional things that we really don't mean. If he did mean it, then it is a sad statement that we don't share love on each other the way we should . . . until we get cancer.

But while I sat in the pew, I felt overcome by grief at times. First comes the tight, almost painful feeling in the throat. Next the soft tears tumbles down your face, then, at the worst moments, the uncontrolled shaking and verbal shrieks. You try very hard to hide that last part.

Ironically I've been reading James Joyce's Ulysses and I happen to be at the part where Joyce is reflecting (in a flight of thought way) about death and the funeral.

I've noticed that in the place of extreme emotions, depression, grief and joy, that I feel most human.

In the place of the emotional mundane, you can start to be deceived by the materialist that I am a carbon-based robot, the result of endless evolution. But when you feel the cut of acute grief, it is like you come to the surface of the milky sea, and can see clearly and experience your own God-breathed humanity rawly and with certitude. Maybe that's the basis for the saying that there are no atheist in foxholes. Oh, yeah . . . that's another deep emotion where I feel most human . . . intense fear.

More to come . . .


Anonymous said...

This is the anniversary of an important fireman's funeral in my life. Yes, we do funerals well. We always get practice. I posted on it on the 15th.

MJ said...

Too bad for the "practice." It was one of the most . . . I don't what to say, healing? funerals I've attended. Firemen do know how to do it.