I have never liked funerals. I much prefer the company of the living.
When I was a child I was considered too young to attend, even funerals of family members. I kind of regret now that I didn’t get to say farewell to my maternal grandparents in that ceremony. Mind you, that is an adult reflection. At the time I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it or appreciated what was happening.
As an adult I have attended funerals when it seemed appropriate. I know that they are held for the living and have little to do with the deceased. I also know that they are an important rite of passage and that many people take comfort in them.
I don’t find them comforting, but I understand their importance and the importance of being there to support those who are grieving. Funerals are one of the last bastions of community in a North American culture highlighted by individualism.
I was thinking that recently after the funeral service for my neighbour, a true gentleman who seems prematurely gone at age 83. The service was held at a local Anglican (Episcopal) church, one that he and his wife have attended for far longer than I have known them. I wrote what you are reading today as I took the bus home immediately following the service.
There are no adequate words of comfort for a grieving family. But maybe there is a sense of peace that comes through this ritual, the words used for centuries as a last memorial for our loved one. There’s something soothing about liturgy. It can provide a sense of stability in times of unrest.
The ritual reminds us that we have been here before, that we survived the ordeal. We know we can do this because we can and because we must. That doesn’t make it any easier.
An Anglican funeral is perhaps more formal than the Baptist services I grew up with. Or perhaps not. Baptists think of themselves as being non-liturgical, but if we are ever going to follow a formula it is for weddings and funerals.
Following the service I found myself reflecting not on what I had just been part of but more on the way our society handles death. I have wondered from time to time how people with no faith cope with death. It must be pretty scary, even if you don’t believe in any sort of afterlife. Scarier still if you do belief in an afterlife but haven’t taken the time to investigate what it is going to be like.
Then again, given that we live in a very scary world these days, I wonder more how those without faith cope with life.