Friday, May 22, 2009

Tale of Two Funerals


"A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold." Proverbs. 22:1.

Some people say, "I don’t care what people think about me." Well, maybe or maybe not. Some people say that in defense of their own poor behavior. They really do care. Either way, I think we should. The Bible says we should. There is something to a name, which the follow story illustrates.

He was somewhere in his late fifties to mid-sixties, I can’t remember. He lived at home with his 80+ year old mother. I should say he "mooched" off his mother. He was unemployed, lazy and a ne’er-do-well. He sat at home and drank, that was pretty much his life. And his mother enabled this man’s dysfunctional behavior. She permitted his behavior, coddled him, and even supported his behavior.

I did this man’s funeral. No more than fifteen people were present. It wasn’t because the weather was bad. Nor was it because no one knew him. The man spent his whole life in this little community. The reason so few people showed up at this man’s funeral is that people did know him, but didn’t regard his life as one worth honoring.

Why do we have funeral services? Having done dozens of them, I think I can say that there are two reasons. One, we want to support the family members and close friends of the deceased. They are grieving and we want them to know we care. Maybe our expressions of concern will touch their heart and strengthen their resolve to go on. The second reason we have funerals is to honor the deceased. Our presence at the funeral indicates that we feel the life of the deceased is worth remembering. We listen to the stories of the life this person lived. We laugh and cry at the pictures in the power point presentation. We nod our heads when the preacher says, "This man or woman lived a life worth remembering. We honor the one who has gone on.

I think one big reason people did not attend the man’s funeral I just told you about is because not many people felt his life was worth honoring. It was very sad.

Contrast his life and funeral with that of a fifteen-year old’s funeral I performed some years later. This lad lived a very short life. But it was a good life. Not that everything in this boy’s life was good. His dad left the family to pursue his number-one love: alcohol. His mom had to carry on with two pre-teen boys and a very limited income. It was tough situation. The boy was hurt and needed his dad. Men from our church stepped in and tried to help encourage the boy, take him on outings, mentor him.

Everyone who spent time with this kid loved him. He was very personable and friendly. He asked questions. He was forward enough that he would ask to come back to your house! And no one would tell him, "No!" Everyone was glad to have him back. He was great kid.

When a tragic accident claimed his life at age 15, the whole community mourned. Five hundred people showed up for the funeral. Five hundred people crammed into a room without air conditioning in the summertime to show love and support for the mom and little brother, and to honor the life of this young boy. His life was very short, but it was well lived, even under trying conditions.

After I performed the first funeral, I went home empty and sad. I told my wife that I did not want my life to end like this man’s - unacknowledged.

After I performed the boy’s funeral, I went home, sat in a chair on my front porch, and cried harder than I ever have in my adult life. The loss of this boy not only hurt the community, it broke my heart. And I thought, I want to have my life count like the life of this kid. I hope I can touch as many people in a meaningful way.

In my heart, I still grieve for what must have been the emptiness of the man. I also still grieve for my young friend who would be 24 years old today. But I also feel joy at the quality of his life, and look forward to seeing him again. Once and awhile I say, "I’ll see you on the other side, Cole."

(Note: the idea for this article came after reading An Obituary that really made me think... Please link over there for a good read.)

Warren Baldwin


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Warren your post has me thinking deeply and you are right on concerning the sadness over someone who lived a shallow life, and the pain of losing a life that held hope and destiny.

    Yesterday, I visited as a volunteer Chaplin at a local hospital. Most of the people I visited seemed so lost, without Christ...this is sad. All I could do was sit and cry for mercy over the names on my list.

    I have not had to do a funeral yet, but my first may be around the corner. You have given me lots to ponder.

    I had to delete my first comment...sorry.

  3. Warren,

    This makes me think of a man in my church, a friend, whose son accidently drowned at the age of 24. My friend tells how he asked, "why, God, why?" afterward and for awhile. But then he says so many people came to the funeral, so many young people who never went to church, and several of them became Christians because of that day. He misses his son, but feels there was a purpose.

    Larry E.

  4. Robin - you are working in an environment that is very tough on the emotions. I did a seminar for long term care staff at a home here who live regularly with the grief of losing aged patients. Crying, praying and talking are good outlets for the emotions.

    Larry - this is a hard story. Fortunately, there is some joy to it, as well, for those who became believers. So much of this life is beyong our being able to understand.

    Thanks for visiting, reading, and commenting!