Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ecumenical Funeral, Or How I Spent My Monday

Thanks to the GPS, we arrived at the funeral home about 45 minutes late. It would have been worse without it.  The casket was at the front of the room and my brother-in-law received condolences in a receiving line that seemed to wrap around the building.  The parlor was packed and by the time the service began at 4 pm, there were fewer seats than people.  I opted to stand so if things got too weird, I could duck out the door under some pretense.

I looked around the room to see if a minister of some sort might be present.  The closest thing was a friend of the family who apparently had been appointed as MC.  He began by saying that it was the explicit wish of the family that no particular denomination or "god" be mentioned and then he proceeded to read something from Buddhism.  If there was any lingering question about whether or not  a priest had been called to administer anointing of the sick, there was my answer - negative!   Next he mentioned that several readings had been printed and he urged anyone who felt moved to take one and come up to the podium to read it.  No one took him up on it.  Mostly a few friends got up and said nice things, and then the MC would come up again and urge us to talk to "our god" and reflect for a moment.  I asked Jesus to have mercy on me for being part of this.

When the "service" concluded, people gathered and talked, oblivious, it seemed, to the deceased lying at the front of the room.  If the casket was closed, it didn't happen while we were present, and we were there for quite awhile.  The burial is scheduled to take place at a later date with only the very immediate family present.

To add to my ire, a family friend from my sister-in-law's childhood ran up to my husband and introduced herself to my children as his junior prom date, all the while rubbing his back and generally hanging all over him.  I thought her behavior was extremely inappropriate and disrespectful and I let her know that by putting forward my hand and introducing myself as his wife.  Then I pulled him away.  I had never seen such a spectacle before and to think that it happened at a funeral was even more unnerving.  My oldest, who thinks I overreact to everything, was in total agreement with me that this woman was over the top.

Afterward, a reception was held on the waterfront.  There is a beautiful Catholic church, St. Mary's, that sits at the top of a hill overlooking the harbor. Believe me when I tell you I would much rather have walked up that hill to investigate the church a little closer.  There were lots of midshipmen from the Naval Academy taking in the sights and enjoying the weather.  I sat with my brother and sister-in-law, he being the only other practicing Catholic in the family.  My sister-in-law saw fit to tell me that while her husband is very religious, she is not, and she detests having to give money to the Catholic church, so she doesn't.  In fact, she told me, she hasn't been to church in  years.

"I can pray to God from my golf cart just as easily as I can in a church.   A church is just an excuse to collect money."

My brother-in-law proceeded to tell me he was afraid she was going to Hell.

A nice little discussion ensued and I urged my sister-in-law to do me a favor.  I asked her to read about the apparitions at Fatima and then the next time we meet, to let me know what she thought.

On the harrowing ride home, my  husband asked me why I didn't want to say anything at the service, and I told him I found it difficult to leave Jesus out of any conversation concerning the dead, and I  knew he saw my point.  Had I decided to speak, I would have said that my sister-in-law had suffered much in the last years of her life, but she never gave in or gave up.  She carried her cross with dignity and never complained.  Two weeks before her death, although she was most certainly not feeling well, she traveled to the Pacific Northwest to help care for her daughter, who had just had a miscarriage.  When it came to her girls, she would drop everything and be there for them, in whatever way she could.

When my in-laws began to fail in health and mental well-being, it was my sister-in-law who took responsibility and took action.  She bought a home where they had their own wing so she could look after them.  She encouraged my mother-in-law to start a garden and lovingly helped her mother tend to her roses each day.  She took them on short boating trips, and always managed to find the humor in everything, like the time my father-in-law locked himself in the bathroom on her boat for 45 minutes.

Many years ago, before she was married to her current husband, we were invited to Christmas Eve dinner.  My oldest was asleep by the time we left and my husband carried her to the car, inadvertently leaving behind her favorite cuddly toy, a blue Puffalump.  My sister-in-law could not stand to think of her niece awakening without her best friend, and drove that raggedy little bear all the way to our house.  She did not want her niece to be sad on Christmas Eve.

My sister-in-law was an inherently good person.  It's up to God to decide if that was enough.  But if the activities today drove home any point, it's that funerals should be an opportunity to pray for the soul of the deceased because none of us is perfect, even those of us who would call ourselves faithful Catholics.

I'll let you know what happens with my other sister-in-law the next time I see her.


  1. All I can say is wow. You touched me with the description of your sister in law. I struggle mightily with the help of the Lord to attain a little bit of charity. Hers was truly admirable. I will continue to pray for her soul.
    and the service... yikes.

  2. Love is the main requirement for Jesus, it seems your sister-in-law had an abundance!

    1Peter 4:8. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

    May her overflowing love cover all unconfessed sins, according to your word Lord and your great Mercy, Amen.

  3. She sounds like a very kind person. I hope your other sister-in-law benefits from your advice. I am having blogger issues logging in and posting so in case I have to be anon, it's Kathy @ Moving On to the Past

  4. Oy.
    This sounds exactly like the service my husband insists he wants when he passes away. I will just have to beat him to the punch. I don't know if I could be party to arranging such a thing.
    Your sister-in-law sounds like a very lovely person. I will continue to remember her at adoration. I guess I should remember BOTH sisters-in-law.

  5. Julie
    My husband has long insisted on being given a memorial service that resembles a jazz gig, but I told him last night he will have a proper funeral Mass and we will save the kind of memorial he'd like for the reception afterward. He agreed it was a good idea.

    Some people think it's morbid to discuss this stuff but I'm not one of them :)

    Hi Kathy aka Anon, thanks for stopping by, in whatever disguise you need. I don't know what's going on with Blogger any more.

  6. I tried to leave a comment yesterday, but was unable to.

    Thank God she has you to pray for her.


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