The Complicated Nature of Funerals

funeral_procession kathryn stemwedel

I really like this painting by Kathryn Stemwedel entitled “Funeral Procession”

Somehow it gets at the complicated nature of funerals, the celebration of a life and the grieving over the loss of that life to those left behind.

At the end of July , I attended three funerals:

The first funeral , July 29,was for a woman named Joyce, a coworker whose husband is also a friend. Joyce died at age 70 of a brain tumor that was first diagnosed in January. She probably had it longer than that, but the dizziness she experienced kept being misdiagnosed as other things. I actually went to her wake, not her funeral, because the second funeral took place the same day as Joyce’s; both persons died the same day.

And the second person was a man named Louie, who was my cousin’s husband. Louie died at age 72 after years of living with Multiple Sclerosis. Louie had been a star athlete in his youth, and was diagnosed with MS when he was 40.

The third funeral took place the following week, August 6. This was for a man named Ron, the husband of one of my college classmates. Ron died at age 75 of pancreatic cancer. He had survived this cancer for 13 years – much longer than the usual survival rate, due to the skill of his surgeons and oncologists at Hopkins, and to the wonderful, vigilant care of his wife. In those 13 years, he got to see his only daughter marry and give him two grandchildren.


All three of these funerals were graced occasions for me to see friends and family members I hadn’t seen in a while, and to pray for the consolation of the grieving loved ones. I believe all three of the deceased are in heaven; not so much a need to pray for them.


These funerals, and the end of the month of July, made me more aware of my own age of 68 as “ready for retirement” or as on the way to the great beyond. Really, how mouch longer on earth do I have? I have said a number of times that I don’t want to live to be 90, as my parents did, when I would be blind, demented, and incontinent. Even though my legs and feet and back and hands and arms still work well and work without pain, and I can still read and drive and climb stairs and week the garden on my hands and knees, I am partly blind and occasionally incontinent already. And a “brain test” I took on Facebook showed me that my reaction time is already below normal. So maybe I have twenty more years, or ten more years. That’s all in the mind of God.

Do I have a poem to end these ramblings?


The Future                  by   Rainer Marie Rilke


The future: time’s excuse

to frighten us; too vast

a project, too large a morsel

for the heart’s mouth.


Future, who won’t wait for you?

Everyone is going there.

It suffices you to deepen

the absence that we are.                                  (Translated by A. Poulin)




Werenskiold, “The Funeral”



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