Hoping for Narrative at a Funeral

I recently attended a funeral where the pastor was not acquainted with the deceased, or the family.  Beforehand, he’d been in touch with the family via email to learn something about the woman who was to be buried.  He asked for stories.

At the graveside, he recounted stories, wove them into his funeral services–sometimes the whole story, sometimes just a reference.  I could tell these stories made a difference.

I wonder how many of us hope for a narrative that makes sense at a funeral.  That the person who died had a story of their life–one that seemed to have an arc, a climax, a purpose.  While we often choose a minister who personally knew the deceased or at least the family, I can understand how much more a family who doesn’t know the minister might be yearning for him/her to speak a narrative of a life they knew, even if he didn’t.  And what pressure on a minister to create that from stories and testimonies.

But still I was awed by the feeling that he successfully gave back to them a story of their mother–a life they recognized, complete with purpose and narrative arc, as if it had been written by her, or by God himself.  And how they seemed satisfied by that story–as if the completion of a story gives us closure.

Certainly those of us who are living hope that our lives are creating a story with a narrative arc.  I’m thinking I should jot down some notes for a minister here about what my story was–just in case he needs some pointers.

2 thoughts on “Hoping for Narrative at a Funeral

  1. Murray August 23, 2008 / 9:59

    I almost never go to funerals, mostly because I don’t deal well with people I love dying. I did attend one a year ago because it was for a particularly special man, and it turned out to be not about him at all, but an hours-long promo for the Catholic church. I think I’ll go back to avoiding funerals, staying home and remembering my deceased friends in my own way. It’s great to hear that some ministers actually do take their jobs seriously, though.

  2. David Wesley August 25, 2008 / 9:59

    Being able to create a narrative that’s meaningful to those left behind is a tremendous gift. A person’s life should be celebrated wherever possible, but sometimes the circumstances make it very difficult. I once went to a service for a young man who committed suicide by hanging himself in a tree within view of an elementary school (students found him). You can’t celebrate a life that ends that way, but the pastor used it to remind each of us that we have choices and options and we can create our own successful narrative.

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