I attended a funeral recently for a relative of a friend, and I saw a familiar type of service.

The deceased had lived 84 years, and the only things the minister mentioned about him in this memorial (though they were mentioned repeatedly and with due emphasis on their considerable value) were the facts that he was a serviceman (U.S. Navy, in both WWII and Korea), husband, and father (and grandfather and great-grandfather). That's about it.

Wait, not quite: There was also a mention that he retired from some company I'd never heard of after many years of service there -- but no mention of what sort of work he did there, nor was there even any suggestion of what the company did from the name alone. He was also said to have suffered from Parkinson's disease for the last 10 years of his life. Those were all of the details given of this man's 84 years of existence, as summed up in this service supposedly held as a tribute to him and his life.

While the man's military service and family roles were important, and he may very well have been great at all of them, it struck me as absurd that a mere 5 minutes were spent telling us this, and then another 25 minutes were spent telling us about Jesus and quoting at length from the Bible. What's up with that? If the deceased was a strong Christian, and/or even if just his family was highly religious, I could see that being appropriate as one of the details that would come up -- but even then, only in passing and as pertinent to discussing the person we were all gathered there to honor. Instead, this service that should have been a testament to one man's life was usurped by the legendary Testament of another. We were told far more about Jesus in that service than we were told about the deceased -- as if we hadn't already been steeped in the message of Christianity most of our lives just from living in this country, especially here in northeast Texas.

Apart from military service and providing for his family, what were this man's interests? What made him HIM? Did he read for pleasure, go to plays, or watch TV? If so, what entertainment did he like? Mysteries, biographies, jokes? What languages did he speak? Did he play baseball, chess, or trombone? Did he have an eye for fashion, home improvements, or art? Did he like pets? What was his favorite food, color, or activity? For that matter, what did he do professionally, either in the military or as a civilian? What the heck did this man actually do in his life? I do not know.

All I know are his roles: serviceman, employee, husband, father/patriarch. We were told he was "good" in each capacity -- and I'm not knocking that, because it's certainly worth a lot to have that said about one at the end in any of those roles, let alone in all of them. But I would have liked to have seen recognition for more than just proficiency in the roles he fulfilled; I would have liked to hear some references to his personality. The way this service was conducted, there's no telling that he even had one.

I have seen this happen at nearly every funeral service I have attended. Sometimes, it's partly due to the fact that the minister conducting the service didn't actually know the deceased, or only barely knew him or her; in such cases, I find it understandable (still regrettable, but understandable) if the minister felt it necessary to pad the memorial with more familiar material. He's got to talk about something.

But if the minister actually knows the deceased (as it seemed this one did from the way he mentioned a few things), it seems unforgivable to neglect the personality and the actual life of the deceased in his own funeral. Seriously, ministers get plenty of time to preach about Christian themes and memes with plenty of willing congregationers every single freaking week; there is no need to also hijack a captive audience for those few minutes that are set aside for the sole, final, once-in-a-lifetime service honoring someone whom his family, friends, and associates have specifically gathered to mourn.

Ministers, take note: The funeral service is called a "memorial" for a reason. I think it is important to remember just who it is we're supposed to be remembering in it.

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Tags: death, funeral, memorial, religion, service

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Comment by Wordplayer on July 26, 2008 at 8:35am
Now I see what you mean, Rosa! The fact that the minister used an intermediary at all, instead of talking with the family directly, definitely showed a lack of personal care for the situation; the sloppy note-taking, and the even sloppier handling of those notes, demonstrated that disdain even further by both parties. "Fraud" indeed!

Your friend's reaction, however, demonstrates how clergy are often held to be above accountability for their behavior; the same principle is what leads to victims of pedophile priests being told by their parents not to embarrass the priest by telling anyone. (!) Admittedly, that's a much more extreme example than your friend being shocked at the suggestion of asking for a refund from a minister for his thoroughly careless eulogy -- but the principle of nonaccountability for clergy is the same. It's a tough bit of programming to break.
Comment by Rosa on July 25, 2008 at 7:30pm
Okay, maybe I didn't give enough info. on that one. I was a friend of the daughter-in-law of the deceased and I accompanied her the day previous to the memorial service in order to arrange all the final details of the ceremony. We were attended by the minister's secretary who asked us for the details of the deceased. Well, to be frank it seemed to me that woman wasn't at all interested in what my friend told her and just scribled a few words in a piece of paper (she was more interested in my friend paying the bill in full). The day of the service I saw how the secretary gave that same piece of paper to the minister ten minutes before the ceremony started; the guy didn't even look at the paper to see what was written there! Hence, during the ceremony I just saw him looking at the paper and acting as if he had lost his glasses or something...what a fraud. After the ceremony I actually asked my friend why on earth didn't they ask for a refund and she looked at me as if I was suggesting a sacrilege or something.
Comment by Wordplayer on July 25, 2008 at 7:10pm
To be fair, in circumstances like that, it might not be entirely the minister's fault, if he had no prior knowledge of the deceased. The family bears some responsibility for giving him something to work with (i.e., information about the person and his/her life), and for correcting him when he misspeaks. Though I understand that the latter is extremely hard to do once the service gets under way, I think that any decent person (minister or otherwise) would rather be corrected on the spot than find out later that he had mispronounced the name of the deceased throughout the entire service!
Comment by Rosa on July 25, 2008 at 7:01pm
It's just that ministers don't care much for the deceased I think. They know by heart a whole bunch of Bible quotes and they just repeat that; it's easier than learning a whole lot of new info. about someone they don't know very well. What pisses me is that they charge quite a bit for these types of services and then give such a mediocre performance at it and no ones questions them out of "respect". I remember at a memorial service I once attended the minister didn't even say the name of the deceased correctly.
Comment by Wordplayer on July 25, 2008 at 6:45pm
Efrique, regarding this: "We didn't mention everything about her either, but at least it was all about her."

That sounds, to me, like the only way to go about it. It would be impossible to do justice to anyone's life in a half-hour memorial. That, in my opinion, is why it is imperative to forego as many distractions as possible -- including needless mythological tropes. I'm glad you were able to have such a nice service for your grandmother.
Comment by Efrique on July 25, 2008 at 5:55pm
Yes - I definitely agree. It bothered me at my grandfather's funeral service that (for a man with no strong belief) so much of it was just turned into bible quotes. I guess the guy thought it would be comforting. I just found it irritating because it wasn't really enough about the person he was, and he was an amazing person; if every second sentence hadn't been biblical quotes there'd have been time to fit in more of who he was. I was so glad that at my grandmothers funeral we simply read our own memorial at a graveside service (my mother wrote most of it, I read it). There was a fresh breeze and a warm sun, and we celebrated a life. We didn't mention everything about her either, but at least it was all about her. It was very sweet.
Comment by Obi on July 25, 2008 at 5:50pm
Agreed.

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