Celebration of Life

On Saturday morning, I got to participate in my first truly Northwest funeral. Er… memorial service. There is a strong leaning in the congregation I serve not to ever have the body present in this last farewell. So, it’s always a memorial service. This one was for a member of the community who’s beloved happens to be my neighbor. (Helloooo small town ministry.) To remember this beloved community member, there were words from the Bible, a singing bowl, a prayer wheel, a Native American chant and blessing and a whole lot of flute music. While I sure celebrate that there are many paths to God, it was a bit too eclectic for me.

And yet, that’s not really what bothered me. What tugged at my soul as I sat in the sound booth switching CDs was the number of times the deceased’s spiritual director insisted that we celebrate. He wanted this memorial service to be a celebration. And so, that was repeated several times to a group of people shaking with tears.

After my mother died, I was told how I should feel. I was told that my mother wouldn’t want me to be sad. I was told I shouldn’t cry. I was told that I should smile because God loves me. But, you know what? I really wanted to cry. I wanted to be sad and angry and confused. I was 7 years old and my young mother had just died. What else was I supposed to feel? And so many years later, I still hate it when I hear this said. I don’t care if my mother is upset because I am sad. I’m sad because I love her. It’s what happens when you love someone. You miss them. It’s the anniversary of her death next Saturday. It’s the day that I hide from the world because everyone else seems to be really concerned about some stupid groundhog, and I just want a little space to be sad because I really miss my mom. I love her and I don’t want to smile because God loves me. I want to cry because there are still things that I don’t understand. So, don’t tell me to celebrate. That’s just plain mean.

This is what I wanted to say to a church member earlier today, but couldn’t quite find the space. Or rather, I didn’t want it to be all about me. He sat down to tell me some really hard stuff that he’s going through and then started crying. Like the spiritual director on Saturday morning, he felt like somehow he should get over it. He should move toward acceptance when what he really felt is anger. And, well, it’s been 26 years and I’m still angry that my mother died. I haven’t accepted it. There are times that I need to be sad and angry and confused. I’m just not always going to be joyful — because that’s what it means to love myself. And I believe with all my heart and soul that God wants me to love myself. After all, Jesus reminds us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The first step is to love ourselves so we can love others, right?

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5 thoughts on “Celebration of Life

  1. can we celebrate life without feeling joyful?

    (unrelated snarky aside that popped into my brain as I typed that sentence and proves that I am a tired pastor today: we certainly manage to celebrate communion without joy often enough. /snark)

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  2. When my son died, I told our pastor emphatically that the service was NOT to be a celebration of life or anything else, that we would be there to mourn, and mourn we were going to do.

    Of course, there were moments of humor in the words of some of the speakers, and at our house afterward.

    To our pastor's everlasting credit, he did a brilliant job in his sermon of weaving mourning and heartbreak together with resurrection hope.

    One of my friends in seminary said afterward, during a class, that it was the most heart-wrenching and anguish-filled service he had ever attended. The professor looked startled, but I thought both the remark and the service were completely appropriate. Although I planned every element of the service, I remember very little of it, but lots of people told me how beautiful it was. So I suppose we accomplished what we set out to accomplish.

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