Last week I traveled with my brother and sister to a family funeral in Fredericksburg, Virginia. There we joined my parents and some aunts, uncles and cousins to support my aunt and her family, as her husband, my uncle, had rather suddenly passed away the week before. He was only 69. While he had been in ill health for a while, we figured he’d pull through, especially being so young. But he didn’t pull through. He is the first family member in my parents’ generation to pass away.
Even though I wasn’t especially close to that uncle, the funeral was still difficult. Some pastors have told me they like funerals and dislike weddings. I find that odd. I can struggle with the sadness of funerals. I watched as my cousins expressed grief over the loss of their father. In fact, my cousin called me a couple days before the wedding, asking, if he was too emotional to read his eulogy, could I read it for him? I said I could, so he emailed me the eulogy ahead of time. When we arrived at the funeral home and greeted him, though, he said he felt he was okay to read it. Still, at the beginning of the funeral service, I loaded it on my phone, ready for the nod. During the reading, he was certainly emotional as he shared memories of his dad, but he made it through. I’m glad he was able to. But his sister was not able to. She had my sister read for her. Then my mom read for my aunt, her younger sister. It was too hard for them, and understandably so.
When I do funeral planning with families, I suggest that family members write out their memorial reflections and enlist back-up readers for this very reason. I also suggest that they don’t have open mics during funerals, or if they really want a space for people to share their memories, do it during the meal. Why? Because loss is so difficult, so emotional. People think they want to share, but they usually haven’t prepared. As a result, they get to the mic, and emotion takes over. I’ve heard plenty of open mic comments at funerals that have no business at a funeral.
Last year, a man from our church passed away, and his was maybe the largest funeral crowd I’ve been involved with. So large the family wisely held it in the sanctuary of a local megachurch. Why so large a crowd? Because when this man passed he was only in his early 40s, he also died suddenly, and he was very well liked. One of his family members went back and forth in the days leading up to the wedding unsure whether they were going to talk at his funeral. Literally during the funeral, they decided to go for it, having nothing written down. As they walked up to the mic in front of all those people, they were overcome with emotion, started weeping, and the only thing that came out of their mouth was an expletive. I have a feeling that was the first time a curse word was uttered publicly in that sanctuary.
My guess, though, is that it probably doesn’t surprise you to read these stories of great emotion during times of great loss and pain. What is the greatest loss you have suffered in your life? Perhaps you’ve lost a job, or a prized possession or a house. Maybe you’ve gone through a difficult health situation, or a bad relationship that just lingers and lingers. For most of us, it is the loss of a loved one. What does faith look like in the midst of loss and pain?
This week on the blog, I welcome Clint Watkins who will be preaching about responding to loss and pain through the practice of lament. Clint and his wife Jillian are long-time friends of Faith Church, as they serve with Disciplemakers on the campus of Thaddeus Stevens, just down the road. Clint has preached, led discipleship, and he even taught a video class for us this past fall. What you will learn this coming week is that Clint and Jillian have experienced loss in a very personal way. Our congregation has prayed for them over the years, first when they lost their son Eli, and then again when they experienced miscarriage. These deeply painful experiences have given the Watkins’ ample opportunity to meditate on what it means to be faithful followers of Jesus in the aftermath of loss and pain.
Join us on the blog tomorrow as Clint talks about it further. In the meantime, visit his site here.