Funeral thoughts

Camelon has a pretty heavy funeral workload that’s shared out among the three-strong ministry team. This means that I get an opportunity to see different approaches to funeral services and get the benefit of several people’s experience. So far I’ve only been on a couple of funeral visits and the funerals themselves but it’s interesting to see the quite different approaches within the same basic structure.

One thing that did strike me though is how the eulogy comes across. Obviously it is put together from conversations with close family but I hadn’t really appreciated the difference that personal knowledge brings. Of the two funeral visits I’ve been along to, one was a ‘church’ funeral (the deceased was an active church member), the other a ‘parish’ funeral (the person was a member but hadn’t been for years and the family had little or no church connection).

Even allowing for differences in ‘style’ between the two people taking the funerals, it was obvious that the eulogy for the active church member was ‘coloured’ by knowledge of the person. It gave depth to the information provided by the family and brought to life, in a sense, the memories being recalled. For the other person, the eulogy almost became like a list of facts but without the personal knowledge, it would have been impossible to add colour. I have to say that the pre-funeral visit to gather information wasn’t the easiest. The family member was chatty enough but even they themselves couldn’t really express much beyond some simple anecdotes. The memories were mostly about themself rather than the person who had died.

I guess it’s a difficult balance to strike – allowing people their own voice through your words but bringing the memories to life without adding false colour. Even for those whom we think we know there is that danger. The public persona may well be very different to the family experience and there must still be an honesty in the presentation of that person’s life.

And of course, within all of that there is the need to bring words of comfort and hope to those who are mourning. Without that then the memories do simpy stand as a listing of a person’s life.

2 responses to “Funeral thoughts”

  1. On one of the Something Beautiful Podcasts Greg Holder talks about how he was fed up going to visit families who just didn’t know their father who had just died.  It seems to be that we just don’t get to know our relatives, even the close ones, all that well.  It might be that one of the things the church could encourage is that process where people spend time listening to each other, to their stories and hope and regrets and dreams.  It sounds so easy, and yet for so many people it would be easier to fly to the moon than sit with their father and just talk about him.

  2. There is something in  what you say John. I’ve lost count of the number of funerals I’ve actually taken, but the majority are without doubt ‘parish’ ones. That sais, there is a wide variety of amounts of info that can be obtained by the pre-funeral visit. I’ve had plenty that were, in effect, born, married, died, did a little work in between, kinds, but I’ve also had families who have been kind enough to make a few notes about the deceased for me. I tend not to visit straight away (unless invited to do so) because I like to give families a chance to get the shock of what;s happened out of their system so that while emotions may still run high, the risk of catastrophic emotional outbursts are kept to a minimum, and people’s dignity is respected with that outcome (I think).
    It is a fact that we don’t always know everything about our immediate family and it does good to reminisce occasionally (before it’s too late to do so).
    The most polarising debate I had at college was over the question ‘Is a funeral an evangelical opportunity ?’ I had one definet yes, and one definte no and there was me in the middle being shot at by both sides !!!

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