I attend a lot of funerals. It is the rare funeral when at least one person in the crowd of mourners is not interested in finding a success story in the life of the dearly departed. Rarely do I attend a funeral of someone who has lived to a ripe old age and then slipped peacefully off into the next life while surrounded by beloved relatives. Regardless the circumstances, funerals are often a time when folks try to make sense of a life that in some cases was a mess. Funerals for folks who have led complicated lives and often passed way too soon are hard to navigate.
At some of these events there are conflicts among the remaining relatives and friends who are trying in various ways to “manage the story”. I am often pulled into broom closets or bathrooms to be filled in on who “knows” and who “doesn’t know” all the nitty gritty details of this life and loss. Other times we have competing ex’s or family feuds that make getting the family seated in the reserved pews an act of diplomacy. Many, many times we are surrounded by sadness and regret, guilt and frustration.
Over the years I have developed a policy about funerals. Someone might say, “Hey, I want you to do my funeral.” And I reply, “Sure, but you need to know that I don’t lie at funerals.”
Lately I’m changing my tune. I am coming to realize that finding the truth in life or death is not as easy as granting the pastor permission to tell the truth. Humans are complicated, so why wouldn’t the wrestling through with the mourning of one’s passing and/or the celebration of their life be less so? Who is to say how to interpret the actions, intentions, and various ways we all interact with the world? The older I get the less confidence I have that I can find the “truth” much less speak coherently of it during the stress of a funeral gathering.
Today, I pray for each of us that when our time comes, we will have lived in such a way, within a tribe of people, that stories can be told that reflect the often-complicated circumstances of our authentic albeit imperfect lives with tenderness. To do so, we have to continue to tease out what it means to live successfully. In the days ahead I will continue to unpack and reframe success - with the end in mind. (What if you wrote your obituary, how would you want to be remembered?)