I have been to too many funerals. I have never liked them. I know they are about supporting the living, an opportunity to come together and mourn as a community, but that doesn’t mean I have to like the process.
Culturally we have a tendency to say nothing but good things about the deceased. It is almost as if here is superstition involved – if you say something nasty the deceased will come back and haunt you. Which means sometimes there is a huge disconnect between the description of the deceased in the eulogies at funerals and what you now to be the truth about the person.
I was at a funeral on Saturday. It was practically standing room only. It was for the former pastor of the church where my wife and I were married 31 years ago. We spent seven years there; when I saw the death notice in the newspaper I knew we had to attend yesterday’s event, which was more a celebration than a funeral.
You have probably never heard of Garfield Remus. He was a modest, unassuming man who was ordained as a Lutheran pastor in 1957. His career in ministry included pastoring churches in Alberta and the Ottawa area. He was at All Saints Lutheran for more than 20 years, and in his “retirement” he planted a couple more Ottawa-area churches. He was not famous, not known outside of a small circle, but he was effective at what he did, which explains the large turnout on a hot Saturday afternoon of people wanting to reminisce together.
There were eulogies, and nothing nasty was said, other than an acknowledgement that Garry wasn’t perfect. None of us are. What he was, and this did shine through with everyone who spoke, was genuine and caring. He was dedicated to serving others, in a very modest fashion; Garry wasn’t the flashy preacher type – but he was a good pastor, he cared about his sheep. The god things that were said about him all rang true. I first met Garry in 1980. I attended his church for seven years, and would see him occasionally in the years since then. I don’t think anyone in the church yesterday was wondering about a disconnect between what was being said and the Garry Remus they knew. He really was a good man, like so many unsung heroes of the Church.
The two hours following the service really were a time of celebration. It was a chance to catch up with so many people from our pre-Facebook, pre-internet life. We take social media for granted these days, forgetting that a decade ago Facebook was something new for university students only. Twenty years ago most people still didn’t have email, and almost all internet connections were dial-up. Garry would have been delighted to see all the people who showed up and to have eavesdropped on all the conversations.
The theme of the event was from the book of Matthew in The Bible: “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” It was so appropriate a sendoff for Garry Remus.