Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Last week Paul and I attended his co-preacher Arlen's dad's funeral. It was a calm and lovely service, the best part being the astonishing crowd of grandchildren who massed all over the front platform and spilled off the sides and sang several songs, beautifully.

As a Mennonite minister's wife, I attend lots of funerals. I remember talking with my sister Rebecca about this. With being overseas for so long, she hardly knew how an American funeral was conducted. I, on the other hand, had attended probably 50 in the years she was overseas.

Old people's funerals are a bit boring, but nice. Most aren't very large. The minister says nice words intended to comfort the family, but especially if the family just got done watching Grandma be ravaged by Alzheimers for the last five years, there's more relief than anything. You can sit there and think pleasant thoughts and try to figure out who's who in the audience and wonder which married couples are happy and listen to the conversation behind you--"There's a fee if you ...murmur murmur...more than one check in six months." The minister always paints the deceased in the loveliest light: "Our sister was very concerned about others," when in reality she interfered waaaay too much in the neighbors' lives.

These funerals don't lend themselves to high drama, but they do have their moments. Like the time I stepped into the nursery with a baby and there were two black-suited funeral home guys rocking leisurely in the rocking chairs, these same fellows who tiptoe down the aisle and raise the casket lid like it was made of spun glass, without the smallest hint of expression on their faces. Or the time the graveside service was supposed to start at 3:00 and we got there at 3:05 and it was already over. Or the time the deceased's white head covering was on upside down.

Younger people's funerals are very different. Hundreds of people show up, looking subdued and stunned. Death, in these cases, was not a gentle event but harsh and terrible. The audience is hushed. The opening song brings quiet weeping. The family is desperate for comfort. Much of the grief is for what never was or will be.

My fine daughter Emily judges everything in life by whether or not it's interesting--books, preachers, travel, guys, everything. Obviously, younger people's funerals are more interesting than old folks' services. If I had the choice, though, I think I would opt for living a long time and having a boring funeral. I hope I'll have lots of grandchildren there; if they can sing, so much the better. And I do wish I could listen in on the service and hear all my faults put in the best possible light.

Quote of the Day:
"We are going down the valley one by one. . ."
--an old hymn I have heard at way too many funerals


  1. I have told my family to mever sing that hymn at my funeral. I hate it!! They use to sing that for every funeral at Hopewell when I was a girl. Its such a joke in my family now that on my fortieth birthday I was shocked to see my family pulling up in cars outside my house. When people started getting out hey were all dressed in black. Elizabeth had a black bonet on and Mart had his big black hat on. I was wondering what in the world! When everyone got in my living room I was visiting and yacking like normal when they all solemnly began singing that song I hate "We are going down the valley one by one, with our faces toward the setting of the sun...!

    Of course they didnt get far because we all started laughing so hard. Of course it was a joke on me turning 40 but its not a joke how badly I hate that song and how badly I dont want it sung at my funeral!!!

  2. Why cant I ever leave a comment without a typo. sigh

  3. Our church of 80 people had 6 funerals from Nov. 2, 2007 until Sept. 22, 2008. Five of these were ill and old and the grief was what I call "sentimental sadness.
    I'm thinking, "What? another funeral? How much more grief can I take?" And the poor food committee.

    Funerals do bring the family's skeltons( as far as relatives go) out of the closet and I could have the best time finding humor in the variety of people EXCEPT that it is a FUNERAL! So I reserve that kind of humor for weddings.

    I laughed and laughed about your wedding blog months ago.
    Joy - IN.

  4. My mother hates going to funerals where there are too many people. Because she is Amish this happens frequently, for the Amish have this tendency to overdo the guest list. After one funeral she threatened that if there are too many people at her funeral she is gonna sit up in the casket and say "There are too many people here... and now there is one less." Then she will get up and walk out.

  5. Sounds like those Mennonite ministers are either out of touch or lying, not? (But maybe it's called something different if stated in an obituary or eulogy.)

    MD, we are going down the valley one by one. :)

    (And I haven't heard it sung at Hopewell in a long time.) :D

  6. When I was a teenager, I went to church with the Musgroves. Mark and Jeff are about my age. Mark was a real hoot, and Jeff had a grand sense of humor. I adored the whole family. (Their sister Jan was one of my heroes.)

    But most of all I respected their sensitivity and professionalism. They understood the solemnity of the occasion and were very good about keeping a straight face. But trust me, there is joy and laughter underneath the somberness. I can picture them sitting in the rocking chairs of the nursery telling jokes to each other.... You just caught the two you saw without their professional masks on!

  7. A dreadful song. And totally in bad taste to sing it at a funeral. In my humble opionion. LOL

  8. Maybe this "lady" was too involved in peoples lives...but I dont necessarily think that it automatically means the preachers were lying. Sometimes peoples faults stand out to us and not too others (for some reason or another). None of us are perfect and if only the perfect ones are the ones that are spoken kindly of at funerals..none of us would be spoken kindly of. We are sinners saved by grace.

  9. Mark, I agree with anonymous, that ministers aren't necessarily lying when they put a positive spin on the deceased's traits. I think I should actually do more of this while people are alive. So much of it is our interpretation.

  10. I have threatend to sit up in my casket and make them stop it if they start singing "We Are Going Down the Valley" at my funeral. If my family does't want to take a chance on having to do my funeral over later, they better sing something more joyful.

  11. Regarding lying...At my grandmother's funeral earlier this year, all the people of her church could talk about was how much she loved them. As her family, we of course knew Grandma loved us too, but we also had a long history with her...and the longer the history, the harder it was to accept her love because of her sharp tongue in her earlier days, something she worked on all her life.

    I don't think the people who talked of her love for them were lying. I think they saw a woman who had mastered letting the loving side of her character show and biting her tongue when her critical side flared. I don't think they had the history to battle with like the rest of the family did.

    The Bible says God's mercies are new every morning. How much we need to have that be true for us too. My son gets 3 strikes before he loses privileges, like soccer that day, and he asked me the other day, "Do I get to start over at zero tomorrow?" I told him that Dad's and my mercy is new every morning--yes, he gets to start over at zero strikes every day.

    How much we need to do this for those we love. It's hard. We get wounded over and over, but I think we need to follow God's example on this one! I wish I could have done that better wtih Grandma, I might have experienced her love for me in a more real way.

  12. I had to chuckle when you mentioned putting the covering on upside down! When my dear mother-in-law passed away, we went to the funeral home a little early. They not only had her covering on upside down, but it came all the way to her forehead. We couldn't help but laugh! They kindly fixed it for us.

  13. Yeah, there was quite a pile of us, wasn't there? :-) Unfortunately, two of us (and their families) were missing. :-(