Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Morning Preacher: Memorial service

I went to a memorial service for my neighbor yesterday. Oh. My. God. I spent the hour breathing deeply and telling myself it would be over soon. I stared steadily at the head of the person in front of me and was very glad I sat towards the back of the chapel.

I went to their house afterwards and his partner asked me what I thought of the service. Hem hem haw haw...always going to have some professional criticism...but what's important was whether YOU liked it, I said. He said it was meaningful to him, so that's good.

But to you, my friends, I will rant. I will attempt to rant productively, however, rather than simply negatively. To that end, I will pause for a deep breath.


Here's the thing about preaching at a memorial service: IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU! Yes, I mean you, Reverend Dr. What's-your-name, as you read a verse from Psalm 139 and say why it's meaningful to you, or read a letter that was sent to you from the president of your faux-denomination, or explain your Thoughts About Life ("Life doesn't begin. It doesn't end either. Life is."), or talk about how we enter early middle age, then middle age, then late-middle-middle-age, then late middle age, then get old. Given that the person who died was 41, this would be a lie, wouldn't it?

Not every memorial service is a "Celebration of Life." Some memorials are a recognition of the tragedy of untimely death. Being sad, being angry, saying it's not fair, saying this shouldn't have happened...if that's what people are really thinking, someone needs to say it out loud! The most honest moment in the whole service came when my neighbor's partner's sister stood up to speak and said in the midst of her remembrance, "It's kind of a sucky lesson." YES! It IS a sucky lesson! Thank you!

And frankly, Reverend Dr. What's-your-name, if the only thing you can think of to say about a person is that "he had a beautiful smile," then maybe you aren't qualified to talk about that person. Maybe you haven't done your job. Maybe you should have asked his partner more questions about him, found out some readings that were important to him, learned what he had accomplished, learned what he would have liked to do, taken the trouble to find some meaning in this. Even if it's "I don't see any meaning in this at all. It's damn unfair."

The thing is, Reverend Dr. What's-your-name, before people can feel the comfort, you have to acknowledge the pain.

No comments: