Once upon a time, J. C. Ryle, Bishop of Liverpool, England, pastorally penned how a few more funerals, and our own funeral will take place. Though the world has moved on since Ryle’s time, funerals stubbornly remain relevant. As such, Ryle’s sober reminder is useful today as it was then; our own funeral is etched on the docket of passing time, waiting its turn after those of others. Be not deceived, dear reader; your funeral and mine will take place soon enough.
Blisteringly obvious, one might say. But I ask: Has the nature of funerals yet nudged our consciences to better prepare our own? How many more funerals will it take for you to preemptively focus on your own?
A funeral is a gallery where portraits and reflective art are showcased. What have you come across at the gallery of the funerals you’ve attended so far? Perhaps portraits of the dead with airbrushed cosmetics to cloak the blemishes that stained his life? How about statuettes of the deceased carved by memorial stories that mark what she was during the living days? Or maybe the gallery ambience was its most prominent reflective piece where the mixture of background music of voices, and the tone and pitch of spotlight eulogies, painted an aura not soon forgotten. Funeral galleries are of diverse array: some shine bright while some are only dimly lit.
Consider now your own funeral gallery: How do you envision it? Will it be adorned with masterpieces or will it be cluttered with ‘what could’ve been’ busts? Will the ambience be pensive, somber and fitting for the occasion, or might it be flippant and trivial or, worse yet, hollow? Surely you have encountered funerals where these differences were detected. Surely there are funerals in this dying world where more sighs of ‘good riddance’ are exhaled than tears of ‘you will be sorely missed’ shed. Surely those are all funerals of human beings! And we too are human beings destined to be funeralized.
Exercising an undertaker role for your pending funeral is rational. It’s that once you acquire a more vivid gist of what you want your funeral gallery to be, it then makes sense to begin undertaking needful life projects that will up the chance to facilitate the envisioned funeral. As a pleasant or heartening funeral gallery does not spontaneously, effortlessly, mystically spring forth from the ground, there is real work and sweat required to piece together such an end. Thus, as a contractor (an original meaning of undertaker), laboring to furnish a desired (positive) funeral will be like committing to contractual agreements with yourself and others.
Now what would undertaking compacts with yourself and others entail? First, a compact with self relates to being intentionally mindful in making all sorts of life decisions that will well contribute to one’s funeral gallery. If you aim to avoid a gallery of woe and instead deck the funeral parlor with sketches of grace, generosity, hope, valor, self-sacrifice and other noble attributes, such memories will be manufactured in others’ minds through common interactions with you while you still live. Consider the potential decisions whenever you get to stand at the crossroads of doing something good that will require self-sacrifice or doing something that is rather self-serving: what will you choose? Like other paths, this one of paving a road to a brightly lit funeral gallery will require making a series of choices in the suitable direction. As people will be talking about you at the funeral, and thereafter, a sufficiently consistent set of recollections of your character will be called for in order to knit a collective in memoriam story to ‘gift’ the mourners at your wake and burial.
How about undertaking compacts with others? This relates to increasingly composing our ‘being’ towards the service of others. In other words, a life of pouring oneself out for the good of others is a superb way to fill up one’s days. It comes down to something as stark as this: Which would you rather have others say of you? - “I’ll give him this much; he really walked his talk, and he constantly talked about looking out for number one, himself!” Or, “She was so good at boosting others around her; she was never one for hoarding all the credit, but she loved to honor others and consider them better than herself!” These memorial sentiments, again, do not descend magically from the clouds but are reflections based on people witnessing a person’s habitual features and joy in life.
All tall orders? Indeed. Mere fictional visions of grandeur? It doesn’t have to be; rather, it can be a sober reality for you, dear reader, but you must become an undertaker of compacts with yourself and others. And if you choose this undertaking, you will stand in a long line of respectable persons. It’s possible you know (or knew) some of them personally. Take a moment to call them to mind: picture their faces, their kind words, their silent, unimposing tears, their plentiful smiles, their sacrificial helps, their caring acts, their loving hearts, their bold persistence. What do you have to lose by undertaking such a life? Nothing at all. What do you have to gain by it? Oh so very much!
If you would, slowly stroll down the corridor of your funeral gallery. To occupy that gallery, dress it with portraits and accoutrements that capture the true flavor of your current life and manner. Are you pleased with what you see in your mind? Is that the funeral you’d like to eventually have others to attend and remember you by? If so, then you may presumably conclude that you are on the right path. However, if this hypothetical exercise is providing you a disturbing and infelicitous result in mind, then it’s not too late: you have a choice that may yet be made to renovate your future funeral gallery.
As this short paper was sparked with a quote by a bishop of old, it now winds down with a scriptural excerpt. In Ecclesiastes chapter 7, verse 2, we find this utterance: It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Will you, dear reader? Will you lay this verity to your heart?
Our funeral nears and its gallery will showcase what we’ve majorly undertaken during our living days. I hope for you a well-lit funebris.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Moon is husband to Esther, and their children are Samantha, Christopher and Andrew. Paul studied psychology and mental health counseling, and has a PhD in adult education. He is the author of Lost? When people we really like die, a book for children published by Centering Corporation. Paul tries to serve others through counseling, teaching, co-learning, and becoming an attentive audience to their stories.