I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. This is probably at least in part due to Jon Foreman’s Fall EP getting some very substantial play time in my car (although it’s not as death-centric as Winter, just pensive) but also because I went to a funeral last weekend for a 6-week old baby. It was my 16-month-old son’s third funeral; at that rate I don’t see a way to raise him without a keen awareness of mortality. It is easy to say “she was too young,” but what you really mean is she didn’t die of old age. Every single one of us – 6 weeks old, 29 years old, 76 years old – we’re all exactly old enough to die. Whatever comes after death is just one breath away, one heartbeat away for me and for everyone I love. This is very sobering.

I have also been pondering the custom of making a memorial service/funeral upbeat. This is understandable when the deceased has lived a life worth celebrating – I have been to funerals of even those who were “too young” that were a genuine celebration of their life and faith – but it seems to happen even in cases where there is not much to celebrate. For example, a few years ago I attended the funeral of a man in my extended family. Many years before, when this man was young, his mother died and he demanded his share of the entire estate – effectively telling his father he wished he were dead, too. And he had nothing to do with the family in the intervening years. But at his funeral, the pastor – who didn’t know this man, as he hadn’t attended any church – kept talking about what a great guy he was and how he loved his family and what a strong faith he had. Maybe this guy did love his wife and two dogs but he sure didn’t love the rest of his family. I kept looking around, thinking someone should stand up and call the guy a liar and wondering why we were all just sitting there, accepting his words even though we all knew he wasn’t telling the truth. It was just communal make-believe, I assume to make the widow and the guy’s parents feel better.

This funeral for the baby – this pastor said that it was a day for celebrating, because she was in a better place. He spoke words of comfort to the parents, assuring them that they had done everything possible to care for the gift entrusted to them by God. I had/have 2 problems with this: 1. the cause of death had not yet been released, and the surrounding circumstances were somewhat suspicious, so unless this guy was also the coroner I don’t think it’s appropriate to state with certainty that either parent was not at fault and 2. the father wasn’t even there because he was in prison. Do you know how awkward it is to hear someone repeatedly address an absentee in a public speech? It’s awkward. This time I kept thinking someone should point out to him that Dad can’t hear you, you can stop talking to him. Once again it was a man of the cloth just running his mouth to make the people on the front row feel better.

I’m not sure what is the right thing to do. It would be really depressing to go to a funeral and hear “This guy squandered his life. He was selfish and treated special people like crap, and it is possible he is burning in hell.” Or, “There are so many things this child will never get to do. And that is really, really sad.” But it’s not really encouraging to hear things you know aren’t true, either. I think it does a great disservice to the afterlife beliefs of Christianity (which are, after all, the point of Christianity) to treat death so lightly that it doesn’t faze you to lie about it to a room full of hurting, questioning people.

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