Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013
Never AgainPosted Friday, November 6, 2009, at 10:27 AM
I've recently done something that I have never done before nor will ever do again.
I preached my father's funeral.
Both of my parents made advanced plans several years ago. They have had nearly every detail in place including what flowers would be displayed and what songs would be heard.
Yet, my father outlived the people he thought might lead his service. I both volunteered and accepted my sister's invitation.
What would you say about your father if given the chance? Would you be able to separate your own grief from the responsibility of reviewing his life and giving meaning to his days? Would you try to picture him as a saint? Would you share any unresolved feelings from tensions and disagreements from the past? How would you honor your own father?
The morning arrived and I found myself standing in front of around thirty five people. My mother was present, wheelchair bound, and while more cognitive than at any other time in the last three years was still not functioning well. How could she after losing her husband of nearly sixty-six years?
The rest of the front row found my sister and brother-in-law and my nephew and his wife. Several rows of empty seats separated my family from the general public. Half of those there were clergy friends of mine who had driven from all over the state to show their support for me, a debt I'll never be able to repay.
I uplifted stories from his childhood that had shaped the man he became. I spoke of my parents' college years, falling in love, and the World War that separated them for a time. I recalled their years of marriage without children, the arrival of my sister and years later my arrival, and economic hard times he faced and his response to them. I testified about his faith and the ways he lived it daily. I recalled some of the experiences of the last five weeks, his decisions regarding how to stay in charge of his life, and what it was like for him at the end.
I read scripture that speaks of how "God seeks out what has gone by." I detailed the things in his life which he saw as successful. I prayed and sat down.
To this hour I cannot recall the exact words I used at the funeral service and I'm not ready to hear the recording the funeral home made. Yet I've come to peace about this effort of mine because of the comments those in attendance have given me. Repeatedly came the phrase, "I don't know what I would say about my own dad."
So pull out a piece of paper and begin writing. Uplift the stories you remember from the years before you shared your father's world. Write about the important transition moments he's experienced, those turning points that change a man for the rest of his life. Testify about faith as he understands it and how he's lived it out. And detail the successes he would understand about his journey on earth and what he has accomplished.
Consider giving your writings to your father if he is still alive. Indeed, may you have deep conversations with him and from those begin to understand how he wishes to be remembered. Begin to resolve any left over disputes that are not worth the years of energy they've stolen from your relationship.
And listen, yes, listen, as he uplifts how important you are in his life.
If your father is no longer living, collect your writings and keep them in a sacred place. Read them on occasion and light a candle in memory of his life and successes.
I had the honor of publicly interpreting my father's journey through this world.
May we all be so fortunate to do so in one way or another.
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P.T. Wilson is the senior pastor at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, Greencastle, and is also the University Chaplain at DePauw University.