On Sunday, I attended a funeral for someone who I did not have the privilege to know. She was the mother of one of our neighbors, the woman who lives just across the fence from the parsonage.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to watch the health of a parent fail so dramatically, but I feel encouraged about all the things that were done right. The neighbor’s mom died at home, not in some sterile, faceless hospital or nursing home. She spent her last days surrounded by the ones she loved. There were nurses who came in to help and to teach her caretakers how to use the medical equipment and feeding tubes that became necessary. And even when the funeral home people came to collect her body, they did so with dignity and, yes, caring. Unable to get her out on a stretcher, the funeral director carried her out, gently, in his arms.
Funerals tend to be all about memories and associations; we tell stories from our loved one’s life, look at photos and reflect upon the ways in which we are better people for having known the one who has been taken from us.
But we also reflect on our own mortality. At a funeral, we are faced with the fact that one of these days it will be our turn, our photos up there on the easel, our stories being laughed and cried over friends and family.
A funeral can help us turn introspective. What will we leave as a legacy when it’s our turn to go? If we’re not too happy about what we see in the mirror, we may wonder whether there’s still time to change, to become the kind of people we really want to be.
When we clean out the house of the departed, there are always knick-knacks and mementos to distribute, small tokens that may sit on a shelf to remind us of a loved one for years to come, or may be packed away in a closet to bring out on special occasions.
Is that all that remains of us after all the trials and tribulations of a lifetime? We hope that our influence and values will affect others positively long after we’re gone. I think of my grandfather, who had a profound influence on me when I was growing up. More than thirty years after his passing, I still remember his birthday every year and think of him often in the little things, such as when I find myself saying the same things he used to say. But who will remember him when I am gone? I have no children of my own, and my sisters’ children never had the opportunity to meet him. I think of my oldest nephew (whose name is somewhat similar to my grandfather’s) and doubt that he knows anything about his great-granddad.
Maybe I need to sit down with him and his sister and tell them some stories, bring out some photos. While there’s still time.
When we attend a funeral, it’s not about us; it’s about the one who we lost and whose memory we are now honoring. But as we hold hands and sing the hymns, we cannot help but reflect on the great chain of family and our place in it as time marches on, l’dor va’dor, from generation to generation.