I think it’s fairly true to say most people don’t like going to funerals. It can be awkward—what do I say? what should I wear? These, plus many other questions, come into our mind.
A funeral service is a formal event, held often in a church or chapel, to honour and celebrate the person who has died. A clergyman or celebrant directs the funeral, which may include prayers and/or readings to come after. My guess is that you have attended at least one funeral.
As a retired minister, I have conducted many funerals in different places—each of them is unique. Some have been tragic and sad events when life is suddenly taken, especially if the deceased is a young person. Seeing the grief on the face of a mother and father is very hard to take.
But I’m wondering about the time when you die and your loved ones arrange a funeral service for you—what will be said about you at your funeral service? Yes, I know, it’s a bit strange. But a real issue just the same. I know of situations where no formal service is held—made clear before the death. It can just be the funeral director, the celebrant, and the deceased—nobody else is present.
Celebration of Everyone’s Life
I have a theory that everyone’s life should be celebrated in some way at the end. Think of the many years, hopefully, of interaction and friendship which has taken place. And what about the grieving family? Shouldn’t they be given a chance to say goodbye? Surely it can be about my achievements, my character, and the impressions I’ve left behind—hopefully good ones.
Will mourners say the world is a better place because he lived? What difference have I made to life? Have I done anything to equip others to be happier, and what is the legacy I will leave behind? When you die, do you want your friends to remember you were a good and decent person?
Life eventually catches up with each of us and we all go the same way in the end—we die. There is no dress rehearsal. Funerals are an important rite of passage in our journey of life—not just for the person we are saying goodbye to, but also those of us who are left behind.
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When my life ends and I don’t get to add one more chapter, one more action, one more moment, what will be said of me? One of the special aspects of a funeral service is the family tribute section. These speeches are often very tender and moving, as friends or relatives look back on the dead person’s life and give a loving tribute, warts and all. Even the faults and failings can be remembered in a respectful way. And there is something very uplifting about these talks.
The Legacy of a Rich Man
What will people say at your funeral? That question helped one man redirect the focus of his entire life. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite in 1866 and it made him extremely rich. A little over 20 years later, a French newspaper mistakenly published Nobel’s obituary while he was still alive. The obituary condemned Nobel’s invention of dynamite and referred to him as ‘the merchant of death’. The obituary read, “Dr Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”
Now, contrary to what the obituary said, Alfred Nobel was actually very interested in peace-related issues, and he was extremely upset to think that people would remember him as ‘the merchant of death’. So upon reading that premature obituary, Nobel decided that he would do everything he could to change his legacy.
About eight years later, Nobel died, and people were stunned when his will was read. Nobel willed that his fortune be used to establish prizes for extraordinary achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace—which we now know as the Nobel Prizes. Since Nobel’s death, about 560 Nobel Prizes have been awarded, and the Nobel Prize is generally considered the most prestigious honour a person can receive.
What will your children say about you ? What will your wife say?:
- “My mother always had time to listen to us.”
- “Dad did so much with us when we were kids.”
- “She was my best friend.”
- “He was always serving someone.”
- “She never thought of herself.”
Or will your loved ones say things like:
- “I never really knew my dad because he was always at work.”
- “Mom didn’t seem to have much time for us as kids.”
- “Dad always seemed disappointed in me.”
- “Mom and I didn’t talk that much.”
- “Dad seemed like he was angry with us all the time.”
Relationships and Character
Relationships and character—that’s what’s going to matter in the end. What if I’m the most ‘successful’ man in the world? What if I make all kinds of money or create the next YouTube, yet neglect my wife and kids? Will I really be successful? What do I want people to say at my funeral?
The idea of leaving a legacy in our lives seems a distant memory, and not even a memory for most of us. We are so busy trying to be happy in our lives that very few of us think about what sort of world we want to leave to our children. If asked, most people would say that of course they want to leave a better world for those who come next.
But we don’t stop to ponder anymore. We have forgotten what it’s like to take time to stop and smell the roses. What do you want people to say at your funeral? Do you care? If, after you die, you could look back on your life and think about whether or not it was worthwhile, would you be satisfied? Would I be satisfied with my life?
If we are satisfied to have lived a life of pleasure as the number one priority in our life, we have wasted our life. And the problem with a wasted life is a pretty big one: there’s no going back. Each day our actions contribute to the sum total that is our life. And every day, the choices we make about how we will engage with the world impact the hearts and minds of those around us.
An even a more important question: what will God say when you die? Will he say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master”? To hear those words would mean more than almost any others.
What do you want people to say about you at your funeral? This question helps us focus on what’s really important. It reminds us of what really matters in the end. Your relationship with God and his Son Jesus Christ is what really matters.