Expectations at death vary enormously.
I have just had dealings with a very ‘loud’ non-church family whose loved one had died. I say ‘loved one’, but that was something of an over-statement. They guy concerned had seen little of his family – with just occasional contact with his mother, his brothers and sisters, and indeed his children of a previous marriage. And yet the family were united in their conviction that they wanted to give him ‘a good send off’. For them ‘a good send off’ involved playing heavy metal at the funeral and then a lively wake.
The widow, however, had different expectations. Still traumatised by grief, a noisy funeral and wake was the last thing she wanted. A deeply committed Christian she wanted to remember her loved one with two quiet worship songs which they had loved to sing – ‘Faithful One, so unchanging; ageless One, you’re my rock of peace’; and ‘Lord I come to you…. Hold me close, let your love surround me; bring me near, draw ne to your side’. What she had in mind would have been totally foreign to hr husband’s relatives. They were willing for a ‘religious’ service, but it had to be ‘a good send off’. Only so could they get closure on what in fact had been a difficult death.
I sought to find a compromise. What about celebrating their loved one’s life at the wake? Wouldn’t that be the best place for loud music – as also for expressing their somewhat raucous humour? But no, the crematorium was the place for the ‘send off’ – and it had to be good. I pointed out to them that in many of the church funerals I take the service at the crematorium is often attended just by close family members – and that the real celebration takes place at the service of thanksgiving in the church. But their experience of services of thanksgiving – let alone of memorial services – was non-existent. They wanted to pack out the crematorium chapel and have a ‘good send off’ there.
In the end we have sought a compromise – hopefully both ‘sides’ will be happy. We’re having a couple of hymns (the children of the deceased probably won’t know ‘The King of Love’, but hopefully they will know ‘Amazing Grace’), but we are not singing the modern worship songs. Instead, after the ‘family’ have shared their memories in a tribute, we will listen to a DVD version of ‘Faithful One’ as a form of sharing of memories by the widow. Then after the committal – but before we leave – we will listen to the heavy metal. The widow will then go on to the wake – it will not be her scene, but go she must if there is to be some form of ‘peace’ between the families.
Whether or not the widow finds the closure she needs on the day of the funeral, I don’t know. However, she will be coming to our All Saints Day celebration on Sunday morning 4 November, when – as is our custom – we shall be remembering loved ones who have died. It is always an amazingly moving service. We light candles not just in memory of our loved ones, but also as an affirmation of our faith that your faith that all who trust in the risen Christ are in God’s safekeeping. Although there are always many tears, it is an immensely healing occasion. Hopefully on that Sunday morning the widow will indeed find closure.
In conclusion, I find the term ‘send-off’ a strange expression for a funeral – and increasingly people talk of funerals in such terms. However, according to one on-line dictionary, apart from the sporting context where a send off involves dismissal if not disgrace, a send-off is ‘a demonstration of affection and good wishes for the beginning of a new undertaking’ or ‘a start, especially an auspicious one, to a venture’. Where there is no faith, none of that makes sense. But where there is faith, then indeed we can give our loved ones ‘a really good send-off’!