“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2.
Life’s milestones mark the generational seasons of our earthly lives. Childhood birthday parties fade, graduation parties take their place. The celebrations of friends’ and our weddings yield to baby showers and birth announcements. The cycle repeats with our children—their birthdays, graduations, weddings, the birth of grandchildren. Somber funerals—once rare with the deaths of great-grandparents—become more frequent with the deaths of grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends’ parents, our parents. Then the funerals far outnumber all other milestones and the obituary page lists friends, neighbors and family of our generation. At my stage of life (age 68), I begin to feel that I attend too many funerals-- the temptation to despair is great. Yet some bring indelible memories that remind me of the hope inherent in the epic story.
I remember the funeral for our second son, Matthew. Born with Downs Syndrome, Matthew’s 21 months of life on earth gave our family great gifts, not the least of which came with his death during heart surgery in 1977. That’s when my husband and I told each other “Now I’ll never be afraid of death” because we knew that would bring a reunion with Matthew.
I remember the funeral for my father-in-law just a year and a half after Matthew’s death. My mother-in-law told our then-6-year-old son Chris “We’ll never see Grandpa again.” I explained to Chris that Grandma was sad because she wouldn’t be able to see and do things with Grandpa like she used to, but that that we would indeed, after what might seem like a long time, see Grandpa again in heaven.
I remember my mother’s funeral in 2008. Five years after my father’s death following years with
Alzheimer’s, Mom prayed that her death would, when it came, come quickly with no years in a nursing home. The Lord heard that prayer; Mom died following a massive stroke from which she never regained consciousness. At her funeral service, "Amazing Grace" was the last hymn, including the third verse often neglected or rarely remembered before the resonating last phrase of the last stanza:
The Lord has promised good to me. His word my hope secures; He will my shield and portion be As long as life endures . . . And grace will lead me home.
I remember the funeral for Michelle Bell, a friend from “senior” classes at the YMCA. Hers was a military funeral honoring her years in the Air Force. One remark made by the officiant stayed with me. He said that many of us would say to Michelle’s husband “Sorry for your loss.” He challenged us on that language—telling us that “loss” signals not knowing where something or someone is and reminding us that we all knew precisely where Michelle was at that moment: in heaven, in the presence of God.
I remember the memorial service for Willard Snider, long-time LPC member and father to a friend and then-graduate-student of mine, Cathy Riggin. At the service, Cathy spoke about two enduring memories of her father. One was of family vacations, where the return home and the turn into the home driveway was always marked by her father’s announcing “Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig!” The other was the daily routine of childhood when her father’s work day ended and his entry through the front door was greeted by Cathy and her siblings announcing “Daddy’s home!” Then Cathy shared that for her, Willard’s death marked God’s message that “Daddy’s home—jiggedy-jig!”
Eventually, my generation will experience the last earthly milestone; it will be our time to go to our eternal home. And I begin to wonder what aspects of my funeral people might remember. If I were planning my own funeral, what scripture would I want read? What memories or thoughts would I want people to share? What music would I choose? In God’s Story, Your Story, Max Lucado tells a story about how Winston Churchill thought about such questions:
The prime minister planned his own funeral. According to his instructions, two buglers were positioned high in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. At the conclusion of the service, the first one played taps, the signal of a day completed. Immediately thereafter, with the sounds of the first song still ringing in the air, the second bugler played reveille, the song of a day begun.
In thinking about my funeral, I don’t envision a bugler, but I do hope that the last echoes might affirm Revelation 19: 1-8—maybe Mozart’s Alleluia or the final chorus of Handel’s Messiah in one last and loud AMEN!
"For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." - John 6:40
As I was reading this chapter, I was sitting outside on the deck on a beautiful, DRY evening. The golden sun was starting to set behind brilliant verdant trees, swaying just slightly in the balmy breeze. Flower pots exploded with cascading vines and butter yellow blooms. Birds were singing their unique songs, competing for attention. A rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker cut through the delicate notes of the songbirds. The brilliant azure sky of the day was just fading slightly into the soft blue of a robin's egg, cottony clouds drifting lazily across it. So peaceful, so gorgeous, so glorious. I was picturing heaven to be just like that.
But boy, have we had a lot of rain! Storms, humidity, lightning flashes, floods, and thunder have marked many of this summer's days. Terrible stories of deaths in flood areas across the country have been on the news. At the beach last week, riptide warnings and red flags marked the shore. And that's just the weather. Our world seems in constant turmoil - horrific shootings, economic crises, and escaped convicts have permeated the news since spring. How we long for peace and beauty.
The promise that it will come, and not just on random days, but every day - permanently, eternally - is so amazing. The feeling I had in June when amidst family and friends on Libby and Jamie's wedding day, celebrating their joy, love, and marriage, will be ours forever some day. How exciting! We will enjoy the original glory that God intended for us for eternity. Hallelujah!
After reading Nina's reflection, I thought I'd share the two songs that I would want at my funeral. They reflect my hope and joy for reunions with loved ones, joining my God and Savior, and an everlasting life:
I Can Only Imagine by MercyMe
When I Get Where I'm Going by Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton
Discussion Questions—Epic Act Four
And they lived happily ever after.
1. Think of the stories that you love. Remember how they “end.” Describe a few of your favorite endings.
2. What would “happily ever after” look like for you?
Every story has an ending. Every story. Including yours. Even if you do manage to find a little taste of Eden in this life, you cannot hang on to it. You know this. Your health cannot hold out forever. Age will conquer you. One by one your friends and loved ones will slip from your hand. Your work will remain unfinished. Like every other person gone before you, you will breathe your last breath.
3. And then what? What does God promise as the end of the story?
4. What about heaven do you look forward to?
5. Will everyone enjoy this promise of a happy ending? Why or why not? Why is this such a difficult question?
SOMETHING TO PONDER
Continue writing your story by writing out the conclusion. How will your story of this life end?