I attended a funeral for a neighbor today. I found the experience quite saddening; but not for the ‘normal’ reasons. My neighbor was old – she was 87, and had suffered from dementia for about the last five years – her death was not unexpected, nor was it’s suddenness a cruelty. Her soul has already passed on to a better place. The source of my sadness instead stemmed from my impressions during the service itself – there were less than ten people in attendance, her own son was apparently too drunk to show. The funeral director seemed to me less the director, and more the actor … when my mother died, I was invited on the spot at her funeral to deliver the eulogy, and although not as flowery and polished as what I witnessed today, the words I spoke were real. The same thing happened when my grandfather died – I was asked at the last minute by the preacher to lead a prayer, as well as deliver the eulogy, and I’m fairly sure that I was more convincing than the man who spoke at my neighbor’s funeral today. At first, I wondered whether or not such could really be a reflection of the life of a woman who had lived through all the things my neighbor had lived through; then as time passed, I realized that it was more a reflection of our failings as a society.
We (and here I’m speaking in a generalized fashion regarding Western society, which is what I have experience with) seem to have a professional service for just about everything imaginable. And we need these services, because we are now so busy with our 9-5 jobs with overtime, weekends, and extended commutes that we often find it difficult to set aside time to cook a proper meal from scratch – let alone spend quality time with family. We need professional services to compensate for those things we have no time for – staffed by people who are also burning the candle at both ends, and who in turn also need all sorts of services to take care of some of the most basic aspects of their lives for them. We got too big – we are bloated. Like much of our food, our funerals are processed. This is why my neighbor’s funeral was directed by a man who never knew her – he even referred to the ‘notes’ he took down about her life when one of my other neighbors tried to tell the funeral director what kind of person my neighbor was. His rendition sounded more like a job application. I don’t think it is because of his failings that it was so – I’m sure he’s a fine actor – but rather the situation of having to stand up and deliver a script about someone you’ve never met, to console and soothe the grief of a small crowd of people you do not personally know.
My belief regarding funerals is that they are more for the living than they are the dead. This is why, when I have had the chance to influence events at a funeral, I have always made certain that there is a time included in the service for friends and family to come to the front and share a fond memory of the deceased with the rest of those in attendance. Family and friends need to be involved in the process – this is how it was done before our society grew to the point where people living in the same buildings are complete and perfect strangers to one another, it’s how it should still be done. Instead, you have a group of individuals sitting in a chapel being lectured about something no one can really claim any expertise with by a complete stranger. At some point, we may find ourselves enjoying the convenience of a drive-thru funeral service.
Just as a thought, I would encourage anyone who reads this to actually take some time to think about the funeral you would like to someday have. Someday might be sooner than you realize. Who would you like to have speaking at your funeral? What should that person say? How well does this person know you, your family and your friends? Your funeral, contrary to belief, is not just a chance for those you leave behind to bid you farewell – it is your last chance to speak to them, to bid them farewell, too.