The rhythms of death are part of the rhythms of life. How we remember the dead is part of how we live. When we lose someone we love, our spiritual task is to incorporate their memory, through grief, into our lives.
Ministry gives me the honor of being with people at the end of their lives. There is sadness in these moments. But there is also a deep grace and awe. Most people at the end of their lives are not afraid of dying, although they hope to avoid pain. If people have regrets, they are always about relationships they failed to cherish or love they failed to show. Many people hope in their hearts, whatever their rational brains say, to see their departed loved ones on the other side of this life. It is a privilege to sit with people as their pastor in these sacred moments as they prepare themselves to die.
When people are aware that their death will come soon, they are able to have a say in planning their own memorial service. But we can do this at any time; we don’t have to wait until the end is near. I would welcome the opportunity to sit with any of you to discuss your memorial services, however distant they may be, to hear from you what you would like included in your service. You can also tell me about your life, a conversation at the heart of planning any memorial service. As your minister, I welcome these opportunities.
Sometimes I visit with people and hear from them that they don’t want a memorial service when they die. I always encourage these folks to reconsider. A memorial service or a funeral is a necessary part of how we grieve and learn to live again after loss.
Death is like the opening of a door. No, not the shutting of a door—that has yet to come. When a person first dies, it is as though they are still with us. We forget they have died and cry again when we remember. There is so much work to be done—taking care of their body, making their death official, writing an obituary, planning a service, informing family and friends—and it can seem as though our loved one is with us, directing us, thanking us for each small act of kindness. It is not until the memorial service or funeral that the door truly shuts. We have sent our loved on on their way, on their journey of mystery and love.
We have our own journey on the other side of that door, as well, and it is a hard road. It is a road of grief and unraveling and reknitting. It is a road that brings hard pain before it brings peace. It is a road to becoming a new person, a person who carries the memory of our loved one within us. Ultimately it can be a road of healing. It begins through the doorway of the memorial service or funeral.
When I hear people say they don’t want the “trouble and bother” of a memorial service, I hear them trying to protect their loved ones from that hard road of grief. It is a loving impulse. But nothing can protect us from it. Nothing can protect us from the pain of losing those we love. We show our caring and compassion toward our loved ones when we help plan our services before we die. They will need the rituals of remembrance, as we have needed them in our own lives. A funeral or a memorial service is our last gift of love to those who love us and will mourn us when we are gone.
In this season of remembrance, may you call to mind those loved ones who have gone before you and whose memories warm your hearts still. May their graces live on in you.