I remember the first funeral I officiated at like it was yesterday. She had passed away quietly of old age. In an effort figure out what to say at the service I arranged to meet with the family a couple of days before the service, my goal was to get to “know” this lady. I would weave what I learned into the meditation. Imagine my surprise when the entire family agreed that they were glad that she had finally died. Apparently she was mean, angry and insufferable for as far back as anyone could remember. It was not an easy first funeral, but I must have done OK because afterwards a deacon came and thanked me for “finding just the right words” for such a difficult situation. That was over 20 years ago. I have officiated at many funerals since and figuring out what to say has not gotten any easier.
What do you say to the grieving parents who have just suffered to loss of a newborn baby?
How do you comfort a grieving newlywed whose husband has just died of leukemia?
Where do you find words of comfort for others who are mourning the death of your mother?
What do you say when a loving husband of 50+ years finally slips into eternity?
How do you tell your children that grandpa isn’t coming back?
Finding words of comfort is never easy. Death is scary. Sometimes in the rush to be pastoral and comforting it is easy to say all the wrong things for all the right reasons. The twelve words at the top of this list are: “If given the opportunity to come back, they would choose to stay.”
Really, is this the kind of God we serve? A God who intentionally keeps loved ones apart from each other?
My mother died 8 years ago. I cannot imagine a scenario where my boys are better off because she has gone to a “better place.” If I tell my boys that grandma doesn’t want to come back, how are they supposed to understand that? That grandma doesn’t love them anymore? Telling grieving families that loved ones would choose not to come back makes God seem mean, self-centered and small.
As Christians our faith does talk about the hope of life beyond death, this hope should be talked about at funerals. Turning the hope of heaven and reunion into “I don’t love you anymore” is wrong.