Many years ago I had a boss who had a penchant for attending funerals. It didn’t matter how vaguely he knew the deceased, if we couldn’t find him in the office we knew he would be at a funeral.
I have never shared this fascination, but a recent funeral has changed my mind.
This funeral was for an extended family member of whom I was especially fond. James was an elderly man known for his eternal optimism and vivacity through life’s trials and tribulations. He knew how to live life to the full and make the most of every waking moment.
A couple of years ago, James was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
The time between diagnosis and death was difficult, both for this wonderful man and his family. His death was a mixture of great sadness but relief that he was now free of his earthly trials.
The funeral was on a cool but sunny winter’s day in a church where the sun streamed through the stained glass windows—as a faithful Catholic it was a view James would have seen many times in his life.
The church was packed, not just with family and friends, but also with people who remembered and knew James from his days in that parish.
What struck me was the sense of camaraderie with so many people I didn’t know—we were united to celebrate the life of James and say goodbye.
So often at funerals too many words are said, but at this one every word had its place, from the touching and at times hilarious eulogy given by James’ eldest son, to the simple and personal prayers shared by the children and grandchildren.
The priest told us that, while this was a sad day, it was certainly not a tragic day. James had lived a full and vibrant life and, as a Christian, he would now be content to be with God.
James had been a musician, and Father T told us that, while he was a very tolerant man, there was one thing James could not abide, and that was insipid hymn singing, so we were on notice to make a cheerful noise.
Over a post-funeral cuppa, sandwich and scone, we shared our happy memories of James with family and those we didn’t know, feeling as one in our dedication to farewell a much-loved man of faith.
And that’s the importance of a funeral—it’s a chance to celebrate the person who has gone to our Heavenly Father, and smile through our tears at all the joyful times we shared during their time on Earth.
And just how did we go with that hymn singing?
“Sing to Him. Sing praises to Him. Tell of all His great works” says the writer of 1 Chronicles, chapter 16 verse 9.
And that’s what we did. We lifted our voices in song to farewell James and thank God for the time he was with us, because James was certainly one of God’s great works.