There’s a joke that goes: “A man and a friend are playing golf one day at their local golf course. One of the guys is about to chip onto the green when he sees a long funeral procession on the road next to the course. He stops in mid-swing, takes off his golf cap, closes his eyes, and bows down in prayer. His friend says: “Wow, that is the most thoughtful and touching thing I have ever seen. You truly are a kind man.” The man then “Yeah, well we were married 35 years.””
I often think about that joke when I find myself driving in funeral processions, and unfortunately it does not come to mind because I see people doing the most thoughtful and touching things I have ever seen. Very little awareness or respect remains for funeral processions today. I’ve seen things from blatant disregard for the procession to full on road rage.
And I do not think this is specifically about the procession. In general, American culture is moving away from a solemn and serious recognition of death. We’ve traded church sanctuaries and funeral homes for local restaurants and halls. We schedule it for weeks or months in advance so that the death is less of an interruption (as if we can actually control that). We gather around soda pop and pizza instead of the body of our loved one. If we do anything at all. We silence our grief in claims of pure celebration.
And what I notice is 2-3 years after a death many individuals are still deeply grieving it (or perhaps finally grieving it).
We are in a season of the church year where avoiding death is not so simple. As I write this, I still have ash under my fingernails left over from services where I reminded individuals from 2-96 years old that they were dust, mortal, and surely going to die. We’re headed to a Friday where death yet again will be undeniable as we remember our Lord’s crucifixion. And giving those realities voice and recognition doesn’t hurt us as we presume, but gives us hope and life.
I cannot change the tide of culture around the American funeral, so let me go back to where I started. Take off your cap for funeral processions. Pull over. Sit at green lights while a family burying their dead drives through the intersection. When you do, do not think about all the places you have to be, but for the family driving to the last place they want to go. Let death interrupt you and acknowledge it. And who knows, with a healthier and more respectful view of death and for those who grieve, you may be more ready when it happens to you.
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