We were gathered around the bed where my wife of 52 years lay. We had signed the papers to unplug her from life support. Everyone was in tears. After a time, I said to my family, “Now listen. One of these days it will be Grandpa lying here. And I don’t want all this crying.” Granddaughter Abby said, “Why not?” I said, “Well, good night, I’ll be 98 years old and I will have preached the previous Sunday! What’s to cry about?” They all laughed.
I say a lot of things just to get a laugh. It goes back to childhood so it’s who I am, I suppose. But this one is dead on. I want to live a long time and stay active serving the Lord and loving the special people around me. Ideally, the only people attending my funeral will be friends of my grandchildren since I will have outlived all my contemporaries.
I may or may not do that.
My times are in God’s hands. I know that and I’m good with it.
I go to a lot of funerals. Yesterday, in fact, I went to two. For the first I occupied a pew and I was the officiator at the second.
More and more I give thought to my own memorial service. And in planning it–if that’s what I’m doing here–I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking I deserve a service befitting the King of England or something. Simple is good. And brief is not bad.
Here are my thoughts on the subject…
During the visitation time when people are entering the sanctuary to greet one another and speak to my family, the screens could be showing some of my cartoons through the years. Laughter is great–joy made audible!–and I’d love some at my service.
During the service, the eulogies should be any of my grandchildren who wish to say something about the grandpa who loved them every day of their lives. They should keep it brief and specific. Tell a story, give a remembrance. (And I would be pleased if each one would begin: “My name is _____. Grandpa loved me best.”)
The music should be classy and uplifting and celebratory. Remember, “the good Lord likes a little pickin’ too,” in the immortal words of Tom T. Hall. So, guitars and fiddles are welcome, as is every other musical instrument known to earth! I wouldn’t even mind hearing “The Orange Blossom Special” one more time.
The message by a favorite pastor should not dwell on me, for pete’s sake. Tell them about Jesus. Tell the people…
–why we do not sorrow as others who have no hope. Here’s a hint: I Thessalonians 4:14.
–why Joe is doing just fine today and forever it is well with my soul. (I was saved in the summer of 1951 at New Oak Grove Free Will Baptist Church.)
–why the promise of Psalm 17:15 and 27:13-14 meant so much to me and why it should to every child of God.
And tell them…
–how they can know the Lord and live forever. Don’t complicate it. Tell them from Revelation 3:20 to open the door to their hearts and invite Jesus Christ inside!
–about Jesus, who was the only one to come from Heaven to show us the way. John 3:13 is unique in Scripture. Jesus can be believed about Heaven because He is a native of that land, the only One to come from there to reveal it to us.
–to forget about all those alternative religions and salvations, because “(Jesus) alone (has) the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). This is not a DIY business. It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps. It’s Jesus or nothing. Believe or despair. Nothing could be simpler.
And that’s enough.
I’m smart enough to know that no matter what I say here, my kids will do whatever they want to do for my funeral. And I’m good with that. After all, these things are for them and not for the honoree. (We talk about inheritances and what I’m hoping to leave for the children and grands. Someone remarks that the first thing most people do when they get their inheritance is go out and buy an expensive car. Personally, I’m fine with that. It may be the only time they’ll be able to afford one, so if that’s their choice and not just an impulse, go for it.)
If the ladies of the church want to have lunch in the fellowship hall after the funeral service, that would be good. That’s always a great time to visit with each other.
Following Margaret’s service, in the lunch time we set a microphone on stage and invited those who wished to walk up and share a memory or story. It made for a delightful time. And once in a while someone told something they would not have felt comfortable sharing in church. Like the time Darlene told of attending college classes with Margaret. “Maggie taught me it’s all right to say ‘damn’!” That brought the house down and shocked her preacher husband, you may be sure.
The laughter was so therapeutic and bonding. And the statement was so true to my wife the iconoclast, I could have “kissed Darlene on the mouth” as Gomer used to say. (Or if he didn’t, someone did.)