I attended a funeral recently for a relative of a friend, and I saw a familiar type of service.
The deceased had lived 84 years, and the only things the minister mentioned about him in this memorial (though they were mentioned repeatedly and with due emphasis on their considerable value) were the facts that he was a serviceman (U.S. Navy, in both WWII and Korea), husband, and father (and grandfather and great-grandfather). That's about it.
Wait, not quite: There was also a mention that he retired from some company I'd never heard of after many years of service there -- but no mention of what sort of work he did there, nor was there even any suggestion of what the company did from the name alone. He was also said to have suffered from Parkinson's disease for the last 10 years of his life. Those were all of the details given of this man's 84 years of existence, as summed up in this service supposedly held as a tribute to him and his life.
While the man's military service and family roles were important, and he may very well have been great at all of them, it struck me as absurd that a mere 5 minutes were spent telling us this, and then another 25 minutes were spent telling us about Jesus and quoting at length from the Bible. What's up with that? If the deceased was a strong Christian, and/or even if just his family was highly religious, I could see that being appropriate as one of the details that would come up -- but even then, only in passing and as pertinent to discussing the person we were all gathered there to honor. Instead, this service that should have been a testament to one man's life was usurped by the legendary Testament of another. We were told far more about Jesus in that service than we were told about the deceased -- as if we hadn't already been steeped in the message of Christianity most of our lives just from living in this country, especially here in northeast Texas.
Apart from military service and providing for his family, what were this man's interests? What made him HIM? Did he read for pleasure, go to plays, or watch TV? If so, what entertainment did he like? Mysteries, biographies, jokes? What languages did he speak? Did he play baseball, chess, or trombone? Did he have an eye for fashion, home improvements, or art? Did he like pets? What was his favorite food, color, or activity? For that matter, what did he do professionally, either in the military or as a civilian? What the heck did this man actually do in his life? I do not know.
All I know are his roles: serviceman, employee, husband, father/patriarch. We were told he was "good" in each capacity -- and I'm not knocking that, because it's certainly worth a lot to have that said about one at the end in any of those roles, let alone in all of them. But I would have liked to have seen recognition for more than just proficiency in the roles he fulfilled; I would have liked to hear some references to his personality. The way this service was conducted, there's no telling that he even had one.
I have seen this happen at nearly every funeral service I have attended. Sometimes, it's partly due to the fact that the minister conducting the service didn't actually know the deceased, or only barely knew him or her; in such cases, I find it understandable (still regrettable, but understandable) if the minister felt it necessary to pad the memorial with more familiar material. He's got to talk about something.
But if the minister actually knows the deceased (as it seemed this one did from the way he mentioned a few things), it seems unforgivable to neglect the personality and the actual life of the deceased in his own funeral. Seriously, ministers get plenty of time to preach about Christian themes and memes with plenty of willing congregationers every single freaking week; there is no need to also hijack a captive audience for those few minutes that are set aside for the sole, final, once-in-a-lifetime service honoring someone whom his family, friends, and associates have specifically gathered to mourn.
Ministers, take note: The funeral service is called a "memorial" for a reason. I think it is important to remember just who it is we're supposed to be remembering in it.