Sometimes compassion calls upon us to do something that just seems odd. But we do it because it feels right to do or it feels odd not to.
I’m conducting a graveside service for a man I never met. He died last week. He was elderly. Though he did not die alone, he will be buried with no one present except the funeral home staff and me.
I will conduct a short graveside service, it will still be a funeral service. There will be prayers and two readings. I’ll say words of committal and even form a cross with sand on the lid of his casket.
I’ve been thinking about this service all weekend. I don’t have fear or nervousness about it. I’ve done my fair share of funerals and memorial services for people I barely knew. I’ve covered funerals for my colleagues when they were on vacation. As an interim pastor, I’ve had parishioners die within a few weeks of my start.
But this is a funeral out of sheer compassion. I have full confidence in the funeral home staff that they will inter the body with dignity and respect, but without a funeral it seems that something is missing.
No one should depart from this world without a funeral because it is a ritual to help the survivors accept the end of the deceased’s mortal life. It helps them put the deceased’s life in the past tense, but it also prepares them for a future without the deceased. But this one seems odd because there are no survivors who will be present at the service. When you think about this, no one has to conduct this funeral.
Yet, it didn’t seem right to me to commit this man’s mortal remains to the earth without some religious ritual. I volunteered.
When I called the family and asked them if they would like this, they were surprised and grateful. They said “We will be silent during the moment signaling the start of the service.” Clearly this mattered to them.
The Holy Spirit beckoned me. I can’t figure out any other reason. Then again, this comes with the call to ministry. It’s one of those odd and peculiar parts to this calling.
This funeral will matter to people who can’t be there. It will give them comfort. It matters to me because I can’t bear to think that NO ONE from the community or family will be there.