Sunday, November 30, 2014

Can a Funeral Be Inspiring?

We went to a great funeral on Saturday. Ron was an old friend of John’s, and he was a man who  taught that taking risks for love was worth it. He knew it firsthand and he was there when John needed support.

But his funeral—is it weird to say that a funeral is great? This one was. Ron knew his prognosis long ago and he had an accurate count-down, so he had some time to plan his dying. That can be good news or bad I guess, but the plus to knowing that you are dying is in being able to plan. It’s rare to be at a funeral for which the dead person planned the entire event and this was that funeral: the music, readings, even the eulogies were under his influence. And they were stunning.

It raises this question for me: Who is a funeral for? Is it for the person who died? for the family? Is it a final way to communicate our values and beliefs--even our taste in music, art, literature? Our personal theology? Or the spiritual needs of the people in the pews?

I go back and forth on this. I have two funeral files, one for John and one for me. Is that about being well organized or crazy controlling? Is it thoughtful? I like to think no one will need to guess at my favorite poems, hymns or what should be in the handouts. John's file lets me anticipate how crazy grief will make me and gives (probably false) assurance that I'll be able to choreograph his funeral in a way that will convey his taste, intellect and humor. But, really. Isn't that a lot like my childhood mantra of "What if…?" that I used over and over to provide a false feeling that preparation would protect me?

Can a funeral be inspiring, funny and creative? Ron's was. It reflected the man who had lived. He had two marriages, two kids, dozens of jobs and thousands of friends. And what most inspired were his adventures. He was one of the most adventurous, fun and spontaneous people. And that has left its mark.

On the long drive home we talked about making more adventures, taking more risks, being more spontaneous and embracing silliness in our day-to-day.

That’s the good we can take from death—from someone else’s and from our own impending dying. Ron’s death reminds me to keep death nearby as my guide and friend who can whisper to me many times each day, “Time is short; what are you doing?” "Are you living and laughing and having adventures now?" Can we put our intellect, taste, passions and humor into each living day so there is less need to demonstrate all of that later?

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