Silly things commonly said at funerals.

Adding to my thoughts on “grateful and brokenhearted”, one common mistake we make upon learning of someone’s death, is that we try to avoid or minimize our grief.  I think those who know us and love us but, were not necessarily as affected by the loss, want us to get past the grieving as quickly as possible.  So, frankly, in their attempts to help us, they do and say some silly things.

“Homegoing service”

Let start with calling a funeral a “Homegoing service.”  I have always been bothered by this!  I have begged my family to make sure that when I die, do let anyone call my funeral a “homegoing service.”  I need a funeral, not a “homegoing service.”  I need an evening of prayers followed by a Mass of Christian burial.  Why?  First of all, anything else it implies that no one is supposed to be sad at my death.  Not only are we supposed to be sad at the death of someone;  God is sad at the death of someone because, death was never part of His plan for us.  Death entered the world because of our sins, not because God planned it.  God will overcome it nonetheless.  But, to call the funeral rites a “homegoing service” confuses joy with hope.

My father died when I was only nine years old and there was NOTHING joyous about that.  I was sad then and over 30 years later, I get sad now.   Furthermore, I actually get resentful if someone suggests that I am not supposed to be sad anymore.  However, each time I pray for him, I am filled with hope.  That is what being a Catholic is all about; Hope.  And genuine Christian hope feels wonderful and can actually make you smile.

God needed another angel in heaven.

First off, we are not angels.  Angels are angels.  Human beings are human beings.  God does not need us to be an angel or anything else for that matter. Rather, God WANTS us to be part of the heavenly kingdom. To suggest that when a musician dies, God needed another player for some ethereal orchestra is silly.  The heavenly kingdom would get along fine without us.  Instead, God loves us and WANTS us to be part of it.  He does not NEED us.  How cruel and selfish would it be for God to cause pain and suffering because of some otherworldly essential?  God did not plan for your death or the death of your loved one.  He only planned His response, through His own death and resurrection.

We should not be sad today.

When I hear this, I want to scream, “Are you kidding?!”   When Lazarus died, Jesus wept.  When any of the faithful dies, I would like to think Jesus weeps.  I am convinced that Jesus shares our sadness.   However, unlike us sinners, Jesus responds to death with perfect love and hope.  Nonetheless, even though death has been overcome by Christ, the pain and sadness we feel initially is no different from the pain and sadness our own Mother Mary felt at the foot of the Cross.  When I preside at a funeral, I pray that the congregates leave with a renewed and sustained hope in the resurrection of their loved one.  But to suggest that one should not be sad or that one should not cry would be misguided at best, if not cruel.

Christ our Hope

During Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States, the theme “Christ our hope” was repeated throughout the visit.  Regarding Christian hope, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads, “We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day. Our resurrection, like his own, will be the work of the Most Holy Trinity:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you. – Rom 8:11

Brothers and Sisters, as we commemorate the faithful departed today, let us weep if needed and let us be sad. Also, let us remember fondly our loved ones and, if possible recall a good memory or two.  But, most importantly, let us hope for the joy of the resurrection of all us.

11 Replies to “Silly things commonly said at funerals.”

  1. I realize it is All Souls Day and it’s important to pray for our departed, but I wanted to point out that the death of a loved one is not the only occasion for grief. Experiencing loss is a part of life, and grief is a human response to loss. People may grieve the loss of a marriage, job, retirement, an illness, child going away to school, loss of a home, rape, and much more. Even when a loved one dies, and we grieve their loss, often we need to grieve the loss of the life we once knew. It may sound selfish, but it’s important. When we experience a significant loss and don’t grieve, we can suffer emotional, physical, and spiritual harm, so blowing big things off and stuffing those feelings has consequences. I’m not saying we should wallow, but it is important to experience the feelings and find some way of processing it all.

    The priest who was reassigned from our parish over the summer had the following on his mass card:

    “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolations, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” 2 Cor 1:3-4

    God’s consolation often comes through others, or at least it did for me. Now, I am able to pass that along to others who suffer.

  2. Very well written Reverend Deacon! By the way I have a post on grief set to post tomorrow I think. Grief is a powerful human experience that must be respected, not dismissed with slogans etc. Thank you deacon for this post.

  3. Great post. In my job, I am not allowed to grieve for my patients, or people I know. We are taught to compartmentalize and “move on” from Day 1. My team leader’s response to me being upset watching my good friend die and trying to save her was, “we’ve got other patients. Get over it, and get back to work.”

    Also at home, my family would tell me it wasn’t ok to cry. I agree with you that it is cruel for people to suggest that we should not be sad, or show emotion. But much of how I was raised and taught has made it very hard for me to grieve. Often times I will go into shock from a bad code, or something else for months and grieve later. When I do feel emotion, it is very raw and painful. There was one time, when my Team Leader wasn’t around, that I cried with a mother who had lost her 7 month old to SIDS. It felt good to release emotion with her, and she was grateful I did. She was grateful I wasn’t “cold” or trying to hide my emotions.

    I am glad that you wrote this, because I think we live in a culture that is very “rip the band-aid off and get over it”. If more people shared their thoughts,or how they learned things, the world would be a much better place.

    1. Thank you for sharing. I can imagine that in a profession where you see and experience death frequently, people would expect you to get used to it. Rather, I think God would give you the graces needed to process your grief so that it does not adversely effect your other patients. But, that does not mean the grief does not exist. Blessings on you and your work. It seems like you heal more wounds than others might think!!!

      1. Please, please pray for my coworker. She lost her 26 year old son to the gas station fire in Frederick. It was absolutely heartbreaking watching her at the viewing and funeral. At the funeral she was trying to throw herself in that hole in the ground with him. She has one other son and needs prayers to get through this.

        We can see patients die and offer the families compassion and comfort, but when it is one of our own, all of our sound advice and wisdom goes out the window. Pray that my coworker finds the strength to take care of her other son, and pray that she does not do anything drastic.

  4. My addition to “silly things said…” regarding the death of a loved one:

    I was told following my father’s suicide last year that “he was at peace now…”

    Really? That’s amazing. Who knew that you could commit suicide and then go to Heaven. And even more astounding is that an atheist who commits suicide goes to Heaven.

    Worse yet, I was told this by a family member who is “Catholic” and should know that suicide is a mortal sin. But one must be comforted at such times, shouldn’t they? Even if what is said is an outright lie.

    Even if someone who did not repent, did not confess, did not profess faith in Jesus Christ … ends up in Purgatory…the fact of saying, “they’re at peace now…” is ludicrous. There should be no definitive statements about a person’s ultimate end at all.

    1. Lisa,

      You are so right. No one knows the full extent of God’s mercy and Christ is the only judge of one’s soul. In the case of suicide, the Catechism teaches, “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.” So, even in the case of your father, praying for him is appropriate. Remember, definitive statements about hope in Christ and His perfect love for all of us are accurate.

  5. Because my mother is expected to pass away within the next several weeks, I have begun to explore funeral arrangements. I’d rather plan now so that I don’t have to deal later.

    One of the sites I came across on my initial Internet search for cremation services offered jewelry into which one could have a loved one’s ashes incorporated. I presume only some of the ashes. *shudder* I can kind of understand wanting to have a loved one close by, but… *shudder*

    1. Yes, I know exactly what you are saying. I have had growing concerns over cremation too. Since we allow it I think we have to do a better job of insisting on proper burial of the ashes. I saw an awful thing on the news wherein an artist will take some of the ashes of people and then mix them into paint and make a portrait of them. We’re all supposed to say isn’t that wonderful. But it is not. Human remains are sacred and should not be put to “uses.” Not only are there problems with what you describe but I also find families are taking weeks and months to arrange burial, if at all. I have suggested in this diocese that we have to have stricter directives. This is currently under consideration with the general norms that are being re-issued in a few months time.

      1. As difficult as it is to watch my mother decline in the last weeks of her life and to consider the work to be done in managing her care and her estate, I feel very fortunate that my mother had long since arranged her affairs. She made sure that my sister and I knew her wishes, and that she had those wishes documented. I know that mom wants to be cremated, and she already has purchased a place in a columbarium.

        Even with my mother’s planning, I still am overwhelmed with all that will have to be done after she passes away. I can’t imagine having to manage the affairs of someone who had never discussed or written down his wishes. I understand how “cremains” could be left sitting on a shelf for weeks or months on end.

        My mother’s foresight has been a wonderful gift to my sister and me. Thanks, Mom.

    2. Cynthia, I will keep you and your family in prayer. As you start planning, you will encounter many services that seek to ease the pain of your loss. But, like I said in the post, focus instead on hope. Everything in the Funeral Rites, including a dignified burial, leads us to hope.

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