I remember visiting with a woman preparing for knee replacement surgery. She said, “The doctor told me not to worry because he’d done hundreds of these operations. But, this is the first one for me.”
It all depends on your perspective.
I hate to get all somber and introspective here, but there has been a run of funerals lately that has consumed my time in ministry. Robbie and I have done nearly a dozen funerals between us over the last three weeks. In my eleven years of ministry prior to coming to Scotland I averaged one a month, so I have had to “step up production,” and therein lies the problem.
How do you approach a grieving family with the same freshness you approached the one five funerals ago?
“Don’t worry, I’ve done hundreds of these things” (I have).
“I don’t bloody well care how many you’ve done, this is my Mum you’re talking about!”
Quantity doesn’t count when it comes to funerals, it’s quality that’s important.
Particularly challenging for me is doing so many “parish funerals.” As I explained in a previous post, parish funerals are for those folks not ordinarily counted as church members. When I do a pre-funeral visit I am generally meeting them for the first time, learning names and history on the fly.
Robbie has the benefit and the responsibility for the “church funerals.” He knows the people and has history with them. Lately he has buried the second parent in a family, andr a man he performed a wedding for, and the granny of the children he’s baptized. He’s done his share of parish funerals, but naturally, many of them have been passed to me.
It’s hard work to keep the assembly line mentality out of your head.
“Right then, name, age, date of death, spouse, children, former employment, birthplace, hobbies, etc.” It keeps the conversation going, to fill out the practical details, but unlike the old Dragnet episodes, ministry goes well beyond, “Just the facts, Mamm.”
What are the facts of a person’s life? Certainly there are many, but at the time of death it is the impression left by those facts that are most important.
“So, your Dad loved fishing? Did he ever take you with him?”
“Did your Mum like cooking the fish?”
“Did you ever travel as a family?”
“What did your Dad do for a living?”
The questions are little gates that will hopefully lead down a pathway to a living memory.
Mining for those living memories makes the work challenging, and rewarding.
It’s a rare privilege to be welcomed into the hearts of a grieving family and a rare expression of their trust to have them share personal stories about their loved ones.
It reminds me that no matter how many funerals have come before the one in front of me, it’s the only one for the family.