January 30, 2023
Looking for something to do on a cold January day?
How about planning your funeral/memorial service?
Does that sound like fun? Well, maybe not, but let’s face it, we are each going to die, and we will each leave loved ones who will be faced with many decisions during an emotional time. Wouldn’t it be a helpful, even a gift, if we provided some guidance ahead of time?
Recently, the pastors at my church offered a session about funerals/memorial services–their purpose and how they fit into our faith tradition. So informative and uplifting. Then the following week, as part of our church’s programming for those of us in the Third Chapter of life (ages 55+), I hosted an informal conversation about funeral planning. This was an opportunity to explore and open to ideas about this key event in our lives. I invited the group to not only listen to others, but also to pay attention to what they were feeling, for this topic forces us to face our own mortality.
The conversation was lively and inspiring and helpful, and like an earlier Third Chapter conversation about downsizing, planning my memorial service is a process. I may be sure of some things, like the fact that I want my service to be at my church, but other aspects, like which pieces of scripture I want read may still be in flux.
After some time of silence and an opening meditation, I invited everyone to share a hymn they would like sung at their service. I shared my two choices: “Beautiful Savior” because my parents loved that hymn (I can still hear my father singing the tenor line.) and also because it is almost the “national anthem” of the college I attended, St Olaf College. It touches a very deep place inside me. The other hymn is “Mourning Has Broken” made famous by Cat Stevens. You don’t suppose he would come sing it at my service, do you?”
Morning has broken like the first morning; blackbird has spoken, like the first bird. Praise for the singing! Praise for the morning! Praise for them springing fresh from the Word. Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven, like the first dew-fall on the first grass. Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden, sprung in completeness where God's feet pass. Mine is the sunlight! Mine is the morning, born of the one light Eden saw play! Praise with elation, praise every morning, God's recreation of the new day!
So many wonderful possibilities were offered by others in the group, however. Hymns I have loved and love to sing. Choices!
What was more important than picking out hymns to sing during the service, however, was sharing thoughts about other key questions:
- What is the purpose of planning your funeral now?
- How does it feel to do this?
- What are you learning about what you hold to be true, about your faith, your fears, your hopes as you undertake this process?
- What experiences have you had planning a funeral or attending funerals and how does that inform the kind of service you would like to have?
- What’s important to you? What “not so much”?
- Have you had conversations with your loved ones about your desires? How has that gone?
- What’s the balance between your desires and the needs of your loved ones?
- How is the service a gift for those who attend?
I’m sorry you weren’t there to hear all that was shared, but you can have this same conversation with your peers, your family, your faith community, and I encourage you to do so.
Funeral Planning as a Spiritual Practice
I encouraged those who attended to approach this process not just as something to cross off your list (“Good, Now I’ve planned my funeral.), but instead to think of this as a spiritual practice. In what ways do you experience the movement of God in the planning and considering, and also in what ways do you express the movement of God in your life through the service you plan?
My husband and I have done some planning. For example, we have decided on green cremation and have paid the funeral home in advance. Even though I have thought about other aspects of the service, such as meaningful scripture and that I want time in the service for silence using the Psalm line, “Be still and know that I am God,” I have not yet written it all down and then handed the completed form over to the church office where it will be kept until it is time to use it.
I have decided doing that will be my Lenten spiritual practice. Stay tuned.
One More Thought
I used to think I didn’t care about my funeral. When the subject came up, I generally laughed and reminded people, “I won’t be there. The rest of you can organize whatever helps you –sitting in a mournful circle or telling edited stories about me or partying, if you like.” But I am realizing that the occasion will bring together people who might not otherwise come into conversation and that it may be a ministry to them in their grieving. My service can be a message of love and God willing, an occasion of grace.A Faithful Farewell, Living Your Last Chapter With Love by Marilyn Chandler McIntyre
What are your thoughts about planning your funeral/memorial service? I would love to know.
4 thoughts on “It’s Your Body and Your Funeral”
One of the best parts of leading a funeral in my work as a Baptist Lay Pastor is the time spent planning with the family. It’s a time for both laughter and tears ; very helpful to all concerned.
Also … a few years ago I spent a very enlivening prayer time asking God about my death day or should I say my transition day. I am very pleased to have that day in mind. I even have the time – so I hope to arrive at the feast in the kingdom in time for my ‘second breakfast’
Such life-enhancing work you do. And I am impressed by your vision of THE day.
Hi Nancy. Peg Mikkelson here (fairly new member of Gloria Dei, resident of Lexington Landing, sister-in-law of Marie Hanson from Gloria Dei who told me about your posts and got me connected). I am very much appreciating reading you posts and hope to meet you in person some time. I am interested in the spiritual writing sessions you facilitate on Thursday mornings, but two Thursday mornings a month I share poetry with the folks who live in the memory care section of our building. So I am wondering if it would be possible to attend your sessions when I am able. Thank you for the caring and wisdom that you share in your posts, Peg M.
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Hi Peg! I look forward to meeting you and would welcome your presence at the writing group–whenever you can come. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you some details.