There is no avoiding death. It's a guaranteed component of this earthly adventure. For those who serve within a congregation, we encounter death on a regular basis. Funerals are part of the job.
A funeral is an immensely sacred space. It provides a place to grieve and to comfort. It is a time to remind one another of God's nearness. The full range of human emotions are welcomed and accepted at a funeral.
I have journeyed with many families through the funeral-planning process. It is a deeply meaningful experience.
As special as the planning can be, it can also feel very challenging for those attempting to make decisions. The people closest to the deceased are often overwhelmed. By the time they sit down to sort out the details of the funeral service, they've already had to make a host of decisions in a short amount of time. Plus, they're in the midst of grief and everything feels foggy and surreal.
There is something you can do now that will help your loved ones when you die. You can write down some of the details you'd like incorporated into your funeral. It really helps your family if they have some guidance as to what to include in your funeral service. Are there particular Bible readings you hold dear? Hymns? Are you interested in having a soloist or instrumentalist present? Where do you want your funeral to be held?
Until last week, there was a funeral service I had never considered: my own. I am in good health. There is no sign of death on the horizon. I plan to live another 100 years or so. Nevertheless, I decided it was time to write my funeral thoughts down; especially since I regularly encourage other people to do this. It was my turn.
Funeral service planning is not meant to be a morbid exercise. Death isn't morbid. It's just real. The more we can accept this reality and help others to do the same, the better. Death is part of the life cycle. We will never avoid it indefinitely. So we may as well acknowledge it. Why not set aside time to consider your funeral?
(Hopefully there are other people who have encouraged you to make known your preferences for end-of-life medical care and burial. Those are separate topics, and there are many well-qualified folks to seek out for guidance. Today's topic is more specific: the funeral.)
It isn't harmful to consider your own funeral, as uncomfortable as it may initially seem. I spent about 30 minutes planning mine, and I felt strange for only the first two. I entered the process with the completely irrational fear that by admitting my mortality, I would somehow hasten my earthly departing.
I quickly realized that was a completely ridiculous idea. That's not how death works. If we all took a few moments to ponder the hymns and scriptures to be shared at our funerals, I don't believe there would be a sudden spike in southeastern Minnesota deaths.
Instead, what happened to me through the process was this: a deepened appreciation for life, some assistance that will be there for my loved ones when I do eventually die, and a chance for me to read some beloved Bible passages and a look through my favorite hymnal. No harm done.
After they were completed, I passed my funeral preferences along to some of the dear ones in my life (and I also stuck a copy in my bedside Bible). The note I included started like this, "Hi. This is not meant to be morbid. Just helpful."
Consider a few people in your own circle with whom to share your funeral service preferences. Explain to them why it was important to you to do some preliminary planning. (If need be, perhaps just attach a copy of this column.)
Give yourself a gift which eventually ends up being a gift for your loved ones, too. Do some thinking about your own funeral. Ponder and pray. Write your thoughts down and then share them. After that, move forward with life and continue embracing every moment.
In life and in death, we are held in God's care. So there's nothing to fear. Remember this. Always.
The Lady Pastor is a weekly column by Emily Carson, a Lutheran pastor in Stewartville. Visit her blog at www.emilyannecarson.com.