This past weekend we went across the state (7.5 hours) to a memorial service for a friend we had known for over 40 years. It was a pleasant service, as such things go. It did, though, remind me of conducting funerals and memorial services myself. During the last 2 years/54 weeks of ministry, I conducted 104 funerals and memorial services myself. That, of course, is not counting all these types of services done throughout the years prior to the final 2 years.
To conduct this many services one would have liked them to be nicely spread out, in this case one a week would have been OK. But that’s not how it works. Some weeks I had none; other weeks I’d have 3. Of course, I personally knew very few. I was a pastor of a large downtown church. When someone died without being a member of any church, those of us who ministered in the bigger churches got called to step in. Yeah, I did lots of funerals for strangers.
I also did funerals/memorial services for people I did know. If they were known to me and were dying from some drawn out illness, I’d spend hours with them before the end. It was a thing for me not to avoid people in the hospital or nursing care centers or on hospice just because they were in hard, even frightening, straits. Indeed, I experienced these as times of deep authenticity. There were no masks or games or pretenses. They were times of deep intimacy when the needs were mainly spiritual, along with pain management medication.
During World War I there was a saying, “There are no unbelievers in the trenches.” I would extend that to say I have very seldom met someone on their death bed who does not believe in something. It may not be the Christian God but it is something. You walk with them until the path comes to an end, whatever that path may be.