Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Not funereal, please

Catching up on some group emails I encountered this: "Not a funeral service but a celebration of G's life." What is it with this? I hear it more and more - "We don't want a sad service, Vicar, he wouldn't have wanted that."

Well I bloody well would. What do I expect when I die? General celebrations? Carrying in the coffin to Ding Dong the Witch is Dead? I would want to think that when I go there might be the odd tear shed, and perhaps one or two people with at least a vague sense of emptiness and desolation.

Of course, it's the demise of faith that lies behind it all. Strip away hope for what lies ahead, and you're left with nothing to do but look back - and perhaps try somehow to deny the reality of death and sorrow. "Not a funeral service" means something very much less. The Anglican funeral rite contains these words:

we have come here today
to remember before God our brother/sister N;
to give thanks for his/her life;
to commend him/her to God our merciful redeemer and judge;
to commit his/her body to be buried/cremated,
and to comfort one another in our grief,

which is so much more than "celebrating the life" of the deceased. The Christian ceremony looks back, and celebrates what was, but it also looks ahead in hope to the resurrection, and to God's judgement. That last bit is important. It allows us to admit that the dead person was not perfect. We don't have to come over all dewy-eyed and suddenly transform them into plaster saints. I didn't know G, but if they were perfect I'll eat one of my hats. A "celebration of the life of" rather hits any sense of reality about the late beloved on the head.

Of course, nowadays lots of people are not believers, and their obsequies ought honestly to reflect that, but a streak of realism ought also to be present even in one of those depressing humanist gatherings. If all we have is a backward look, then at least take off the tinted lenses.

The jolly approach is also unfair to the bereaved. They do feel grief, and loss, and guilt and all kinds of awfulness. We are there to offer support and comfort, and should be able to do so without feeling that somehow it compromises the joy of the occasion.

So, in short, give me a traditional funeral any day. It's so much fuller and richer than those celebration thingies.

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