It must be the season for funerals. Recently, I attended a great one. Recently, I was at another that was by my criteria, pretty bad. The contrast was very interesting.
This one was conducted not by a clergy person, nor a contracted celebrant but by the funeral director. Apparently not trained as a celebrant, he seemed to function merely as a master of ceremonies for a series of laudatory speeches, prepared and unprepared, and the simplest of committals before we adjourned for refreshments in the adjacent lounge. He was clearly trying to accede to the departed's request that the occasion be a "happy" one. Curiously, this painstakingly "secular" event included two hymns of significant Christian sentiments, but of stark irrelevance in such ceremonial as was attempted and somewhat beyond the ability of the fairly large audience to sing with any conviction or, indeed, sing at all.
Half a century years after reading Paul Irion's The Funeral and the Mourners, I have been asking myself what I expect of a funeral celebration. Off the top of my head, and in no particular order, I think the funeral needs to tackle a number of objectives.
1. - must acknowledge the reality of fact of death. The other day this happened only by implication: there was a closed casket present.
2. - should acknowledge and "celebrate" the huge gap that this death will make in the lives of all present. I have always made this a completely separate segment of the funeral service, not an incidental reference along the way.
3. - should "celebrate: the life of the person concerned meaningfully and, if appropriate, with humour. We seem to get plenty of this these days.
4. - should set the stage for the grief work that needs to be done, to some degree, by everyone present and should at least hint at personal resources that may be needed for this...
5. - should offer some reflection on the meaning of living and dying. Many people arrive at a funeral with questions. Pious mumbo-jumbo from well-meaning Christian clergy is out of place in today's largely secular society. But so is an evasive silence. A celebrant should have the ability and the passion to at least articulate the questions if not also some personal suggestions as to the answers.
6. - should offer an opportunity for a significant and final parting with the casket... A family group meeting later at the crematorium may not be adequate for all present at the celebration itself...
I have prepared a series of statements on my personal end-of-life-choices relating to medical and other personal matters. But I have not prepared any directions for my funeral. The funeral may be about the deceased but it is for the mourners. I hope they will be able to work through their needs with a sympathetic celebrant and - at this stage! - I am happy to leave it to them. Perhaps they will have read this post...