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Funerals are not for the deceased, but for us

When Dad texted me not long ago to let me know that one of our family’s long-time neighbors, Mrs. Marie, had died, I expressed my thanks and promised to pray for her family, and for Dad as he preached her funeral.

Then I sat there in my car in Walmart’s parking lot as I cried.

Mrs. Marie meant a lot to me over the years, and she always sent encouragement to me via notes or my parents if it’d been awhile since I’d seen her. 

Sweet lady.

Last week, I attended the funeral of a man I did not know. But his sister had been my friend for nearly 30 years. 

My heart was broken because she, her husband, and their children were mourning. 

A few days ago would have been the 24th birthday of a young man who had been a good friend to one of my sons. His mom released 24 blue balloons, and shared a tailgate picnic with a friend. They ate Connor’s favorite pork sandwiches and shared birthday cake. His mom has wept for him every day since he died in an accident about seven years ago.

Saturday, I sat at my desk typing obituaries for the paper, for people I did not know: a woman well advanced in years, a man barely older than me and then a 12-year-old girl, who died from complications of a lifelong illness.

The fact that my youngest child is my 12-year-old daughter was not lost on me.

I was fine as I typed and edited what was essentially a testimony of a daughter’s kindness and faith, and a love letter to her memory. As I tried to type the next-to-last line, a sweet quote from none other than the theme song of Sesame Street, I couldn’t take it anymore. 

I pushed my chair back, got up and marched outside to mix my tears with the cold rain.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in Jesus, in heaven and in resurrection. No sorrow there.

But people are left behind. My heart breaks for them. I’ve preached and assisted with funerals for people I never met, and felt the pain of loss along with those who knew them well.

It’s not the same thing. I will never say to someone who has experienced the death of a loved one, “I know how you feel.”

Hogwash.

I’ve never been them, nor experienced their loss. It is NOT the same; don’t make that mistake. 

God didn’t necessarily will the death of a teen thrown from a vehicle. He allows things, but is He always author of a death? When grandma dies, it’s not because God “needed another angel.” Angels and humans are not the same. And God loves humans in a much greater way than the angels.

This isn’t meant to be a sermon or Sunday School lesson. But in my opinion, “I’m so sorry” or a simple hug says so much more, and says it so much better, than anything else. 

We gather at funerals because we know it’s going to be hard to take another step without the one we just lost. Or because we want to support others who just lost someone. 

Funerals are for us. 

Another day, remind me to tell you about a couple of memorials I’ve been to that were more laughter than tears. Like my kids’ great-great-grandmother Althea (a.k.a. ‘Alfie’), who was a certified hilarious nut.

When we left the office for the funeral of my friend’s brother, someone who didn’t catch where we were headed said, “Bye, have fun.”

But that’s OK. People like Grandma Alfie put the ‘fun’ in funeral.

I’ve been to a funeral for a high school friend when the parents tearfully asked my father to talk about hell as he preached, and warn others not to go like they believed their son did.

And I’ve been to a funeral for a friend’s mother, where the pastor read a letter from the deceased, asking forgiveness for the way she had treated so many others, and asking them not to turn their backs on God because of the way she had acted toward them. Funerals often contain the unexpected.

But funerals always are because of a loss, always because of a change and always a reminder of our own mortality.

You yourselves know loss, and you know those who have lost. So share a word of encouragement and a hug. I guarantee it’s always appreciated. 

News editor Brett Campbell can be reached at brett.campbell@dailyleader.com or 601-265-5307.