Friday, July 27, 2018

Liturgy: Taking the “Fun” out of “Funeral”

In the opening minutes of Hereditary is a short shot that unnerved me so badly I gave serious consideration to excusing myself and leaving.

The movie begins with a funeral. A child stands by the casket, beholding her late grandmother. In the periphery is a man looking directly at the child and grinning horribly. I thought, if the rest of the movie is like this I don't know if I can manage it.

The remainder of Hereditary is indeed upsetting, but I found the means for managing it. I might get into that at some point, but for the purposes of this posting I'll just use the grinning man as a metaphor for the state of remembrance in this place and age — lots of grinning, little grieving.
“Celebration of Life” seems to be a popular theme these days. To be fair, it is a rare funeral that doesn't contain some element of celebration — circumstances have to be crushingly tragic for all joy to be absent. But to reduce remembrance to mere “celebration” is a heinous sham.

I've been to a “celebration” that began with Led Zeppelin's “Kashmir” being played through a second-rate PA system. Things proceeded apace from there. You can believe it's a memory that haunts me. The fellow being celebrated was maybe 10 years my senior. He died by his own hand.

As we drove away from the service, I said to my younger daughter, “It doesn't matter which of our species' Big Five you settle on, so long as you publicly choose one and stick with it you will be saving the loved ones you leave behind the unintentional grief of proceedings like this.”

I have just returned from another funeral.
Anthony Block — a young man, 21, the son of my dearest childhood friend. Anthony was born to two Mennonite parents, and chose to be baptized into the Anglican Church his father joined some years ago. The funeral was a very big deal, because the death of a young person is a very big deal. I attended with my father. When we left he said, “The lovely thing about the Anglican liturgy is it allows all people to grieve.”

Given where I've been living and with whom I have associated for the past three decades — the bulk of my life — I have been in near constant contact with the Anglican Church of Canada. My difficulties, or “issues,” with it are significant. But dad is right. The liturgy helps. My wife and I borrowed the marriage liturgy when we tied the knot. I haven't given the orders, but you have my blessing to go ahead and pinch the Anglican funeral liturgy for my remembrance, should it come to that.

Getting back to the aforementioned “celebration” — the departed was born in the British Isles, a culture so thoroughly christened it is impossible to give a proper account of it. It would not have been completely out-of-bounds, I don't think, to resort to the liturgy on his behalf — in fact, at one point we all rose to say the Lord's Prayer, regardless of the man's religious convictions or lack thereof. Had we frog-marched ourselves through the liturgy, his closest friends could have said, “What a crock! R___ didn't believe a word of this guff — he must be spinning!” But that anger — that's good, isn't it? That's grief, man. That needs to be there.

Eyeh. I have enough friends who have very pointedly joined the “Nones” — I get it. In fact, I don't just empathize, I sympathize. But if that's you, please give some thought to your own funeral. Give your loved ones a chance to grieve.
Anthony Block was among the gentlest people I've known. He was amazing with kids, and with vulnerable types in general — a soft touch, but not at all a pushover. He was unique, he loved to give. LiveDifferent is the charity designated to his memory.

No comments: