A Funeral Homily (Jesus, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young)

“Jesus wept.”

John 11:35

Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud
I am lonely
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard
Remember what we’ve said and done and felt about each other
Oh, babe have mercy
Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now
I am not dreaming
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard

-Stephen Stills and Judy Collins

What do we need to be reminded of today? What might we carry with us as we depart from this service?

A few thoughts come to mind. First, we all encounter loss on our terms. We have gathered together, but the experience is different for each person. Grief is intensely personal and is not a choice.

We cannot opt out of mourning. Grief arrives expected and sometimes by surprise. Sometimes sorrow presents itself when we feel prepared. The truth is we are never ready. Despite efforts to put our ducks in a row and stiffen our upper lips, days like today (and the ones which preceded it) are sight readings. We go out and do our best. One cannot rehearse for grief. You can embrace or ignore try to grief. You can’t lie about its reality. To turn our backs on grief and ignore our emotions is to sever parts of our humanity from a soul that aches for comfort.

Grief isn’t optional; our humanity shouldn’t be either. Acknowledging our sadness is essential. It is also vital we laugh and tell stories. It’s all woven together; an incredible, yet visible opportunity to celebrate and be inspired to live the rest of our own lives.

Services like this remind us of our mortality. As we honor one life well lived, we get the gift of realizing our lives aren’t permanent fixtures on planet Earth. That’s good. We need the occasional swift kick in the mortality pants. We operate under the assumption that if life is good (we even sell t-shirts with that logo), death must be wrong. I’m not trying to make light of suffering, pain, or tragedy. However, I do want to say that there’s something about death which gives meaning to life.

A few weeks ago I downloaded an app to my phone called, “We Croak.” The developers were inspired by a Himalayan Buddhist tradition which teaches that contemplating death five times a day brings happiness. So five times a day, without warning, I receive a message on the phone (like a text message or notification) that says, “Reminder: You are going to die. Click here for a quote.” Most of the time, I ignore it. I admit there are times I don’t want to remember that I am going to die. Then at other instances, when I’m zoned out on Twitter or looking at stuff on Amazon, it suddenly pops up, “Reminder: you’re going to die.” I click on the quote, and it says, “The whole future lies in uncertainty live immediately.”  It’s just what I need to see.

Today, we have the opportunity to see and hear a unique message. Life is fleeting. We should not live life with uncertainty, without compassion, empathy, or moral ambiguity.
Maybe you’re in a rush to make the ferry or merely living in too much of a hurry. The button pops up. You’ll be amazed at how confronting your mortality, beyond this time and place, will change the way you live. That’s one more gift we receive by gathering this afternoon. We have the opportunity to walk out of here and live more meaningful lives.

Many on this island don’t need an app. The truth of your mortality is something you know all too well. Whether it’s receiving a diagnosis or living through loss, you know that life is delicate, even on a good day. The more fragile our lives become, the easier it is to find gratitude in simple gifts. In our weakness, there lies strength. In the exquisite balance of this moment, we can reach out and find a means to say thank you to our friends, our families, and neighbors.  In grief, live joy.

Richard Lowell Bryant