My friend and I were at the end of one of those very real conversations that is only possible – yet often plausible – with a soul-sister. After discussing the joys and sufferings of family life, we’d somehow come around to the topic of our eventual deaths.
“None of this ‘celebration of life’ stuff for me,” she’d said emphatically. “I want a funeral Mass with incense, and for everyone to cry.”
“Me too,” I said eagerly, “and please, wear black – and lots of it!”
Though giggling at the turn our conversation had taken just minutes before parting, we were also dead serious – pun intended.
I speak for myself, and likely my friend, too, in saying that there’s no judgment toward others here. I can understand someone choosing the “celebration of life” route in how they wish their years on earth to be regarded in the end. In many films, funerals are depicted as bleak events where everyone gathers at the cemetery in the rain, grim words emanating from the pastor, and a feeling of great despair pervading.
In truth, though, Christian funerals are, at their heart, celebrations of life, for we understand that life in Christ overcomes permanent death, and that friends of the Lord live with God in heaven, forever.
As a church musician, I love the rare occasion I’m able to cantor at a funeral. It’s an honor to sing someone into the arms of God, helping usher the spirit to its next home, its eternal reward. In this regard, our tears should be happy.
But we are both spirit and body, so while our spirit rejoices, in our humanity we will feel the pain of death and the temporary breach it causes. If we’ve loved, sad tears will come. This is a healthy, human response to the strong emotions that naturally arrive with the deaths of those we love.
It is this reality to which my friend and I were pointing in our concluding sentiments, for we don’t want our own family and friends to ignore the deep sting of earthly loss. It hurts. It creates a hole that is painful. Ignoring that pain will not make it disappear.
That’s why we hope for tears – lots of them; tears that demonstrate that we were dearly cherished in our efforts to create a harbor of love for our families, that our motherly presence was appreciated, and in our absence, missed.
So please, when that time comes, bring on the grieved hearts, the rising incense, the black clothes and veils of mourning. Drench your tissues with the memories of us, and know that, from our new home, we’ll be wiping away your tears, just as we did in life.
And when the organ sounds, sing, and loudly, through the sadness. Then smile brightly in hope, committing anew to live the rest of your days in a way that will assure we’ll reunite again soon, dancing and rejoicing together in heaven, forever.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on March 16, 2020.]