Last week my church sent me to my first funeral training session. It was like Driver’s Ed for pastors. We went to an actual funeral home, took a tour of the facilities and reviewed the do’s and don’ts of ministering to families in their hour of need.
I learned all of the dumb things you’re not supposed to say when someone dies, such as, “God must have needed another angel in heaven,” or “This must have been God’s will,” or “Wow, they were really old, huh?”
This was all quite valuable, but it made me think that maybe we shouldn’t just train ministers to officiate funerals. Maybe we should train the people who attend the funerals as well. Here are a couple of pointers to help you help those who are grieving.
1. Turn off your smart phone. No one wants to hear your “Funkytown” ring tone while they’re mourning the loss of a loved one.
2. Don’t tell mourners that the deceased looks “so natural.” Imagine how this sounds from the dearly departed’s point of view. Really? This is what you think I naturally looked like when I was in my prime? Gee, thanks!
3. Don’t call undue attention to the flowers you bought for the funeral. Loudly asking, “Whoa, who ordered this beautiful arrangement? This must have cost a bundle,” and then feigning surprise that your name is on the card is clearly inappropriate.
4. Focus on the person’s positive attributes and not on old grudges or shortcomings. Forget about the $20 bucks the guy owes you. Jokes about getting stiffed by a stiff are totally out of line.
Can’t you see how useful this kind of training would be for the general public? It could save us from making all kinds of funeral faux pas that could potentially embarrass us for years. In fact, funeral training is so valuable I say let’s take it one step further. Let’s not just train the ministers and the attendees. Maybe we should all go through training to be the guest of honor.
If you think about it, it’s the one job all of us are going to have to do one of these days. We might as well do it really well. So, ask yourself, how can you be the best corpse the funeral home has ever seen?
You can start by living a life no one will forget. After all, our entire lives are rehearsal for the day when all the people who love us with gather around our body and share what they remember. Don’t leave people scrambling to find something good to say about you. I say, in the words of Bonnie Raitt, “let’s give them something to talk about it.”
What if we lived in such a way that no tombstone could adequately describe our lives, no memorial service could properly celebrate our contributions and no one could ever forget the difference we made for them?
Imagine what you want your spouse or children or coworkers to say on the day of your funeral. Go ahead, write it down even. Now, start working backwards to live a life that earns those words.
For example, if you want your kids to talk about what a loving father you are, then love your kids today. Go home from work early. Turn off the football game and hang out with your family. Parent in such a way that you will deserve an amazing eulogy from your children.
Make another list of what you’d want your spouse, your parents, your friends and your co-workers to say. Now, go be that person one day at a time.
As for me, I want people to be seriously bummed out when I’m gone because God used me to touch their lives. When I say I bummed out, I mean big time, so bummed out they can’t go to work for a couple of weeks and have to sit around and eat ice cream all day, so bummed out that they get special t-shirts printed up with my face on them, that they declare my birthday National Jason Was Awesome Day, and Yankee Candle actually runs out of candles because so many people are burning them in my honor.
Okay, not really. Actually I don’t care if anyone remembers my name, just as long they remember my God. That’s what I want to people to miss about me.
But then, after a tear or two, I want my mourners’ grief to be eclipsed by the stories they begin to tell, stories of the funny things I did or said that will make them laugh despite the fact that I’m gone. I want them to tell stories of times I was the best version of me and times when God used me even when I was at my worst.
“If God could use Jason,” I hope they’ll say, “Well, He can use anyone. Even someone like me.”
The best thing about your eulogy is that you get to help write it by the way you live your life every single day. Funeral day is coming, guys. But right now? It’s training day. I say let’s work like crazy to leave behind a legacy that will rock the world.