Writing Our Own Memorial Services

Memorial Day was established in 1868 as a day to honor fallen soldiers of the just concluded Civil War. Now it has become a solemn recognition of our entire nation’s deceased soldiers and the high price of our freedoms. Remembering is both helpful and sometimes painful.

Memorials are designed to help us remember, because we are prone to forget. One of the most destructive sins described in the Old Testament was the sin of “forgetting”. It seems God’s people tend to remember the things God says He forgets, like our sins. We tend to forget things He says to remember, like His character or His forgiveness. We’re messed up like that. I get those things flipped around all the time.

A couple of years ago I went to Graham to see my mom on what would’ve been my dad’s 80th birthday. While I was there I went to see his grave and view the headstone which was newly placed at his grave. That was the first time I’d ever done anything like that. It didn’t occur to me that standing in front of my dad’s grave all alone would be such a surreal experience. I had a conversation with my dad right there. For the untrained observer, I'm sure it looked like a grown man having a monologue in the cemetery with no one else around. It sure felt like a conversation to me. I could hear my dad’s voice in my head. He said things like, “It’s about time you lost that weight.” He also said he “was proud of me”. If I go back now, I’ll have to tell him I’ve gained a lot of the weight back. He’d gripe about that. I heard him mostly say very kind and heartfelt things and I responded with telling him how much I missed him. Overall, it was a very sweet time sitting there reflecting on his life and our relationship.

“By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.” –Hebrews 11:4

“He still speaks even though he is dead.” Let me tell you, that is true. I’ve lived it and seen it a dozen times. Not just that day at the small town cemetery next to my dad’s grave but almost every time I go through the process of doing a funeral. I’ve done all kinds of funerals: big ones with 2000 people in attendance and small ones with 5 people in attendance. I did the funeral for a friend’s infant son who only lived 6 hours. I did the funeral for a 38 year old single mom who committed suicide with no living parents, no siblings, and a 4 year old son.. I did the funeral for a dear friend’s wife and son.

This is how the procedure usually goes: I get together with the family and we plan a memorial service. Together the family and I would reminisce over a lifetime of memories and I would then prepare my comments from those conversations. I learned several years ago in church work that each of us are writing our own memorial services by the way we live today and days like today.

There’s a seemingly obscure verse in Acts, chapter 8, verse 2 that says: Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. Doing funerals has taught me this incredible truth: our family and peers bury us. Godly men buried Stephen because that was the kind of man he was. The reason they mourned deeply for him is the same: he was a godly man. What will the character be of the people who will bury you? Who will your pall bearers and peers be? How will they miss you? How will they mourn? Will it be deeply or superficially? I’ve seen both. Both are sad but one is good.

The way you live will determine who and how your pallbearers will grieve at your memorial service. I was asked once what is the most common complaint I have heard from wives about their husbands? The answer, I think, is so interesting. The answer, at least for me and my counseling practice, is: My husband has no friends or his friends are part of his problems. Take inventory of your life because when you die the rest us of will do the same (take inventory of YOUR life) and you currently have an opportunity to make any needed changes.

We are writing our own memorial services these very days by the way we steward the gift of life.

Have a great day. I welcome your comments. God bless, Matt.


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