It’s Your Funeral

At a church funeral, the departed person’s first or ‘Christian’ name gets mentioned often. If it happens to be yours every mention is like the bell used in meditation or the little wooden gong struck while chanting. It wakes you up.

In this case, the shared name is unusual now, having dropped out of fashion and so, no doubt, both she and I regarded it as ours alone.

I did not really know her, although I had met her several times, but I knew her son. I see him several times a week and he reminds me of my own son whom I haven’t seen in too long. His mother and I were about the same age.

My initial reaction to her sudden and unexpected death was to rush home and put my own affairs in some better order. There I was nodding along in the fond expectation of another ten years or so when her death woke me up.

By the time, I had found parking and arrived at the church, it was jammed to the rafters. I know this because that is precisely where I sat, the high last row of the balcony where I had an excellent view of the wooden arches of the vaulted ceiling as well as the high stone- edged windows above the side aisles. The organ pipes were above my head and the audio control equipment was at the end of the row.

We rose as one as the processional music began. I was familiar with the order of progress: cross, clergy-four of them, choir, coffin and pallbearers. As a child, I had been part of the white robed choir. I recognized the rank of the clergy by their robes and I still remembered not only the melodies but also the words of the Anglican service. (Episcopalian, it would be called in the U.S.) And this church like the church where I sang was high Anglican.

“More Catholic than the Catholics,” my neighbour whispered.

It was an altogether beautiful experience musically and visually. The Bible readings were chosen to contradict death’s power and even included the well known line, “Death where is thy sting?” And the tribute was full of loving detail about my name sake’s life. Almost the entire congregation took communion, although I remained seated with two lapsed Catholics and a Jew.

I was struck by two things. One of them was that our lives had been very different. She had gone to the same church for probably her whole life and that meant that she had lived near it all her life. I had had over twenty addresses and I stopped going to church as a young mother. She had drawn hundreds of people to mourn her passing. Our family is given to memorials at a convenient date some time after cremation, modest gatherings, but someone is sure to bring a guitar.

The other thing that struck me was how my perspective had changed. When I was a church-goer and heard reference to God the Father, I accepted that a paternal eminence existed capable of granting protection and grace. Indeed He had graciously sent his only begotten son to ransom our souls. As I sat and listened, I was able to see this through the lens of the indwelling divinity I now understood. ‘Salvation’ has become more personal for me of late. That insight, which I cannot apparently articulate, made me happy.

I am very grateful to my name sake and wish her well on her journey. Through her, I got to have a funeral full of pomp and ceremony and exquisite beauty.

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