Archive for Funerals

Where Do You Want to be Buried?

Where Dad is buried.

Where Dad and Mom were buried.

Will it be a slender plot of earth in a cemetery? Or ashes scattered?

My father-in-law’s ashes are buried under a mature shade tree in a church retreat center. Before those acres were developed for future kids and adults, he had been one of the key people on a committee to walk the property and recommend its purchase. Visiting his “final resting place” often means joining others who are playing together, strengthening their faith, and having a darn good time away from home for a week at camp.

Where do you want to be buried?

A member in a Wisconsin congregation left explicit directions about burial in the family plot at a tiny cemetery out in the country. He wanted a brief graveside service. And he’d begged his family: get me in the ground as soon as possible. He died in a January. As his pastor, I recall we delayed the service for several cold, cold moments because of a recent storm. The backhoe had struggled to break through the new snow and frozen ground to dig the grave. But he got his wish.

Where do you want to be buried? Read More →

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Answering . . . That Question

If given the choice of participating in only one of those two rituals for the remainder of my career, I’d choose funerals. But . . . why?

If given the choice of participating in only one of those two rituals for the remainder of my career, I’d choose funerals. But . . . why?

“What do you say when people ask how you can work in hospice?”

Near the end of a long Friday, and at the end of a tough week, a colleague posed that question.

That question. That question.

I won’t share the details of our conversation because—like everything in hospice—confidentiality is a priority. But I will tell you my co-worker had several demanding visits in a row with patients. Everyone with a job they enjoy has days like my colleague. But in hospice, the patients and clients you meet—the scared or angry person, the silent or talkative person, the openly sharing or mask-the-feelings person—are all dying. They will not get “better.” Their loved one, whether an infant or an octogenarian, won’t get better. And so you wonder if you truly helped them. You wonder if someone else might’ve said the “right” or “better” words. You refuse to use clichés or platitudes to bring comfort in a time of overwhelming crisis, but then it’s as if you have nothing to say. You walk into homes where a family’s world is falling apart and, before knocking on their door, you contemplate (for a selfish, exhausted moment) scurrying back to your car. Read More →

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No Monopoly of Traditions

At a Hmong funeral...

At a Hmong funeral…

My parents didn’t want to have a funeral. They didn’t want an obituary printed or posted. I recall hearing the first inklings of those requests about ten years before Dad’s death, when they approached their 60th wedding anniversary. As Dad’s dementia became more evident in the ensuing years, the “inklings” were fixed in the cement of Mom’s answers to my occasional questions.

No fuss, please. Their remaining friends were old. It would be a burden for them to attend any service. And anyhow, Mom calmly, bluntly added . . . many friends are already dead. One of the few changes that occurred in their later years involved Dad’s willingness to be cremated. Until I was in my thirties, Dad’s rare comments about death emphasized a belief that Christians should be buried. Though he may not have quoted the New Testament to me, at certain points I read passages such as, “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” (I Thessalonians 4:16.) If you’re cremated, Dad figured, how can you “rise” from the dead? But his thoughts, his faith, would shift. Given his sensibilities, maybe he learned it was cheaper to be cremated. More likely, his youthful, literal notions about Biblical mandates evolved into an “all things were possible” view about God . . . that even the cremated would be in line at the pearly gates. Read More →

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