Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Question on Funerals/Memorial Services/Celebrations of Life

I attended the memorial service of a friend today. She was marvelous, and the service was an apt remembrance of why we all loved her so much. Lots of music, some lovely reminiscences, the beautiful liturgy, many friends from different parts of her life. And good food at a reception afterwards.

The only slightly off note was a remembrance from a friend from her younger days, who went on and on and on and on. Unprepared, rambling, longer than most sermons...I could see the homilist getting nervous and wondering how he might gracefully bring the very long speech to an end. The other two remembrances were wonderful: poignant, loving, even theological, well prepared and delivered with brevity and grace.

And tomorrow I will be presiding at such a service, and I know there will be three remembrances from friends of the dearly departed. The widower has asked them to speak briefly. I wonder if I should have spoken to them, too...but I also wonder what I might have said to help ensure that they will be like the two remembrances that were so lovely today, rather than the one that made everyone squirmy. My liturgics prof said to avoid these eulogies at all costs, but that's easier said than done.

So, clergy pals out there, how do you address this?


Jane Ellen+ said...

If there seems to be a real determined need for a remembrance/eulogy (and I will admit I do *not* encourage them in the middle of the liturgy), I gently but firmly suggest two things: keeping it brief, and writing it down.

I try to point out the advantage of having time to think through what one wants to say beforehand, and how someone reading is much more likely to really be able to say what they want to say, and much less likely to break down while doing it.

Families have really found that to be very helpful.. and we have been able to avoid the unfortunate "Open Mike Night" experience.

matt said...

I've done two funerals so far and both times, when going over the service with the family, I simply let them know that the reception afterward is the most appropriate time for eulogies. Despite what the BCP says, I simply don't give them any leeway for utilizing that option. One family member asked about saying something during the service and I simply responded by offering the reception as the best atmosphere for remembrances. After all, we are worshiping God during a funeral, not the deceased.

mibi52 said...

Thanks, both of you, for your comments - very helpful. Matt, in your parish in the past, was there a tradition of doing eulogies in the service? I suspect it is easier to take the position you have taken (which I like very much) if it has not been the tradition, or if it has been rare. Then you avoid the "but when Auntie Gert passed away, Charlie gave the most wonderful eulogy" thing. In the end, it is a pastoral call, and in the case of the service I presided at yesterday, we were able to limit it effectively, TBTG. And since it preceded the homily, I was able to do any necessary redirecting in the homily to the hope of the Resurrection, so the theology of the service was pretty clear. This is a privilege, doing this work, and I learn a little bit more every day.

Kim said...

It was certainly making me nervous... The only consolation that hubby and I had was to imagine our departed friend rolling her eyes at the longwindedness :) Which she undoubtedly would have, and which would have made excellent driving-home-from-church conversation fodder.