(For the next several days, I’m not going to be able to post any new topical material, nor shall I be able to interact with your comments. However, I am going to repost some old pieces that once appeared on my now defunct website at http://www.davefaulkner.co.uk. I hope you enjoy them.)
The curate from the Victor Meldrew School of Theology had turned down this funeral. Which was a good job. She never should have been asked. The daughter of the deceased was an occasional worshipper at one of the churches I served.
Like many people at the time, she wanted Celine Dion’s love theme from the film ‘Titanic’, ‘My heart will go on’, to be played at the service. It’s the sort of music that brings me out in a rash, but hey, it was her wish.
We were ready to begin. The congregation was seated in the crematorium chapel. I was outside with the pallbearers from the undertaker’s. I gave the nod to the crem attendant. He pressed ‘play’. Well, it was Celine Dion, it was ‘My heart will go on’ … but it was the dance remix.
As a thumping drumbeat massacred the gloopy song, one of the pallbearers turned to me and said, “So are we meant to take the coffin in at this pace?”
“No,” said one of his colleagues, “it isn’t a drum, it’s the deceased knocking on the coffin, trying to get out!”
It became one of the challenges of my ministry to maintain dignity and not burst into hysterics during the funeral.
The next day, the daughter phoned me to thank me for the service. I thought it prudent to ask her about the music.
“Did you notice the music at the beginning of the service?”
“You didn’t notice that it was the dance version of ‘My heart will go on’?”
“Only I just thought I should ask, in case any of your relatives were upset.”
“Nah – anyway, my mum was a bit of a goer, and she’d have loved it!”
Embarrassing moment over, I breathed a sigh of relief when I put down the phone.
Now I’ve seen a funeral or two in my time. I’ve made friends with the crem attendants. One says, “Don’t wear trousers with turn-ups, or you’ll bring your work home with you.”
I’ve seen inconsolable grief at the crem, and I can understand that. Without the hope I gain from the Resurrection of Jesus, I can see why Paul in the Bible said that people “grieve without hope”.
I’ve also seen overbearing, unnatural joy. I don’t mean the way Christians (with the hope of the Resurrection) can look forward, I mean a kind of forced joy that psychologically is a denial of bereavement’s true pain. Most grief is nothing to be guilty about, whatever our feelings tell us. It’s an expression of our love for the deceased, love we can no longer give them, because they are not with us.
Maybe then my offering is to say that the healthy thing – the Jesus thing – is the gift of grieving with hope.