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Sunday, May 24, 2009

What Do You Say at a Funeral?

Funerals can be awkward. You want to express your condolences and give some comfort to the family but each statement seems empty. How many times can the family hear, "He's in a better place," or "If there is anything I can do . . . ?" So, you search for something to say.

Some people try to make things lighter. They try to tell a funny story of when the deceased was alive. Often people laugh. It isn't because it is all that funny but people laugh when they are nervous. It beats staring back at the one who just made the statement.

Sometimes funerals give people the chance to stand and say something about the deceased. It is not always a good idea to get up and say something impromptu. One guy got up and exclaimed that he would drink a beer in honor of the deceased. He said it with such gusto that I believe he expected the congregation to cheer. I think he watched too many movies and thought that movies reflected real life for the congregation just looked at him like, "How could you be so stupid! Drinking a beer in his name won't comfort the family." He tucked his tail between his legs and sat down. (It would have sounded a lot better in a bar.)

Let's get one thing straight: Nothing that you will say is going to make the loved ones say, "Now that you have said that I won't grieve any more." Your words are not going to make things alright. It is your presence that will mean the most to the family.

So, sign the book, greet the family and tell them what the deceased meant to you. They will not necessarily remember what you said. They will remember that you were concerned for them and that the deceased meant something to you.

Funerals are not for the deceased. They are for the ones left behind. They are often full of lies about scoundrels whom people are trying to say lived worthy lives. In other cases, they are full of glory for some who have died. Funerals are about recognizing death and giving comfort.

Things are a little different if you preach a funeral. I tell the family about heaven. I share with them that they will see their loved one because he has given his heart to Jesus. I tell them that their loved one is looking into the face of Christ right now. I tell them it is glorious. But that's if they know Christ.

The hardest thing I ever do is the funeral of someone who did not know the Lord. I cannot give the family hope of seeing that loved one again. The loved one could have known the truth of Christ but refused and takes his family through tremendous grief. It is the most selfish thing a person can do. I never say that the person who died has no hope. The family doesn't need to hear that. I preach Christ and His resurrection. I cannot do anything for the deceased. I must speak to the living. I cannot bring back the dead.

(I updated this blog on May 16, 2010 with "How to Speak at a Funeral.")

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