We attended a memorial service recently. It was all I could do to wait until we got to the car before commenting about what a great service it had been.
Weddings. Funerals. Baptisms. Rites of any kind—you go for many reasons, you get all kinds of quality, and you rarely comment upon it, because that’s not really why you are there.
But you know you notice.
One officiant at a wedding we attended long ago took the opportunity to explain How This Church Works to the heathens in the audience. I felt so badly for the bride and groom!
“We’re Baptists,” he’d say, as if we hadn’t guessed by the name of the church, “and in the Baptist Church, we all stand up when we pray. So please stand up with me now as we pray as Baptists pray.”
Dude, a simple please stand would have gotten the result you wanted. Not to mention that Baptists haven’t exactly cornered the market on standing up to pray.
At a funeral a couple of years ago, the deceased was mentioned about 3 times during the 45-minute service. I think his family was comforted by the whole event, and truly, that’s who it was for, but I found myself getting really sad that not only had my friend died, but no one really wanted to say anything about him.
I could go on. Who among us has not attended a service in which the name of the key participant or honoree was mangled, or the sound system was inadequate, or some other faux pas distracted everyone from the solemnity of the moment?
This memorial service stood out. It was a tragic, senseless, death, which the pastor not only acknowledged, but which he seemed genuinely upset about. He did not offer false comfort by telling us this was god’s plan. In fact, he said very plainly and in a voice I’d swear was tinged with anger that god would never plan something like this.
The family did not speak, but the pastor spoke for them, either from very detailed notes or from pieces actually written by the family members. So, no sister or father broke down at the pulpit, but everyone got to know exactly what they were thinking and feeling.
Plenty of people have the strength to speak at a funeral, and no one judges when someone cries or sniffs mid-reading, but I really liked this way of handling the matter. We learned so much about the young man who had died, and while plenty of crying went on, so did plenty of laughing.
Really, I’m so glad we went, even though I’m devastated that anyone had to go.
I’m more than a bit morbid and controlling, so I’ve thought in great detail about how I’d like a service for me or someone close to me to run. Let me lay out a few ground rules.
- I’d rather the whole thing not take place in a church, but if that’s where you find comfort, I guess I’m OK with that. However …
- I know enough priests, deacons, and former acolytes that you ought to be able to pick an officiant who knew me. If you’ve got to fly someone in, do it, and charge it to the estate.
- As my mom said to the very kind and patient priest who performed our marriage rite, keep it short, and light on the god stuff. If you get #2 right, those people know me, so they’ll be fine with this.
- No choir, and really, unless it is absolutely necessary, please don’t make everyone sing. That caterwauling could wake … well … don’t make me say it.
- I’d like Love Divine to be the recessional, and keep it up tempo. Amazing Grace should not be played for any reason.
- Please put someone from the Treebeards in charge of whatever food you serve after the service. People may be peaked and upset, in which case they need ham biscuits and butter cake.
- No diet tonic water at the bar.
- If everyone is OK with it, skip the church entirely and go straight to the gathering, eating, and drinking.
- No flowers, although I’ve always sort of wanted one of those wreaths that would make people wonder whether I’d died or won a triple crown race.
- People can make a donation in lieu of flowers, but let’s not give them much leeway. Again, the people who know me will provide some guidance here.
I should probably start a binder. This really isn’t the kind of stuff you put in an advance directive or living will, but it isn’t really the kind of stuff you can leave to chance, either.