Last Saturday, I co-led a funeral for a very dear friend who lost an ugly battle with cancer. It was a very beautiful and moving memorial service. There were poems, reflections from lifelong friends, scripture readings, favorite hymns, Eucharist, and several memorable photos. I walked away feeling as though we had truly sent off our dear friend into her eternal rest in great celebratory style.
But what had begun as a subtle pat-myself-on-the-back moment, began to evolve into a more sober and introspective occasion.
As a rational and intelligent adult, I understand that death is inevitable. No one is exempt from its cruel grip. Death is one of the equal opportunity forces in the world today. In some cases it is highly anticipated and almost timed. In other cases it is sudden or accidental. Regardless of when or how it comes, friends and family are never quite ready for the shock of their loss. And when death occurs, we snap into funeral mode and we take time off of work and buy airline tickets, and we search feverishly for old letters and photographs for memories because we want to show our last respects.
These are all good things for the most part.
I suppose that I’ve recently noticed a few things about myself — and my peers — that concern me. I wonder what would happen if I were to look for old photos of living friends and relatives and shared them with others today? How would people respond if I wrote and shared poems with them while they are living? What would it mean to aging aunts and uncles to get regular notes or phone calls from me? And how wonderful would it be to not wait until a funeral to buy an airline ticket to visit a dear loved one? What baffles me is that if I know that life is fleeting and that every person I love and respect will surely depart someday, why aren’t I hugging, visiting, calling, writing, or photographing more regularly? Why aren’t we treating each moment with loved ones as the precious, irreplaceable gift that it is?
I think that busyness robs us of our humanity. It is our humanity that constantly reminds us of our mortality. And it is our mortality (human limitation), or our awareness of our mortality, that shapes our actions, motives, and even faith. I think that funerals are blaring reminders that this all ends someday. As a Christian pastor, this topic touches many biblical and theological underpinnings regarding the hereafter. However, as my loved ones grow older, my faith also causes me to also think more critically about the here-and-now and how I show my love and admiration to the living.
Life is much too short to express the enormity of our love within the confines of a single memorial service. We have ample opportunities today, however, to give and receive love. Let us avoid our approach-avoidance tactics of distancing ourselves from elderly and sickly relatives just because we fear losing them. For a fact, we will lose loved ones...the real question is how we’ll say ‘good-bye’ to them.
Airline tickets for funerals are no less expensive than airline tickets to reunions, graduations, or simple good old-fashioned family visits. Today is a gift, love is a choice, and hugs are a privilege. Hug as many loved ones as you possibly can in as many ways as possible.
Dr. Gee is the senior pastor of Fountain of Life Church and the president/founder of The Nehemiah Corporation. You can find out more about Dr. Alex Gee at www.alexgee.com or follow him on Twitter at @alexgeejr.