I've been to a lot of funerals in my lifetime. When I was a child, my mom used to get asked to play piano or organ for a lot of funerals and so she would take me and my sister to them - I don't remember how my brother got out of going to them, but I don't ever remember him there. After traipsing the two of us by the coffin so that we could look at the person in it (my mother's always had a thing about this...hence my decision to be cremated when the time comes...), my mom would sit me and my sister down in a back pew of the church (where we'd colour or some other such thing), and she would go up front to play. My sister and I just waited for the reception, when we'd get to eat buns and cheese, and steal sugar cubes.
Clearly, funerals didn't hold a lot of meaning for me in those days - I certainly didn't spend much time dwelling on the meaning of life and death. These days, though, it's a little different - maybe because I'm getting a bit older, maybe for other reasons that I haven't figured out yet. In recent years, I've attended funerals for grandparents and others that I've loved and held close to my heart; and occasionally, I attend a funeral in support of a living friend who has lost someone dear.
On Friday morning I went to a funeral. I didn't know the man personally, but I used to know his daughter well. During most of my teenage years, Karin and I were very good friends - I would have considered her one of my best friends. After high school, we even went to bible college together for two years. At bible school, she met her future husband and when they married shortly after we graduated from bible school, I was one of her bridesmaids (I have powerful memories of wearing sunshine-yellow taffeta). We were close for a lot of years. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, and with my moving out of province for about fifteen years, we gradually lost contact with each other. Then, last July (2009), I went to my high school reunion and Karin and I met up again; we sat together during dinner, and reconnected. The thing is...even twenty-five years after our high school grad, I still like her. And I still like her loud, brash, hilarious husband, Fred. I was really glad to reconnect with them and we decided that we'd all like to get together again and get reacquainted. We tried once in fall to fulfill on that promise, but it didn't work out. Last week, I was planning on calling her to see if we could find a date when we could get the four of us together; but then I got a call from my death-and-obituary-obsessed mother telling me that Karin's father died earlier in the week. Going to the funeral in support of Karin and Fred just felt like the right thing to do. And they seemed very glad that I was there.
Attending the funeral was a great perspective check for me. Hearing about how someone else lived his life honourably and with a desire to please God made me really think about my own priorities, the way I want to live my life. This is a man who was diagnosed with cancer only three days before he died, and who had a chance, in those three days, to think about his life and to decide how he felt about his looming death. The people who spoke about him during the service talked about how he had no fear of dying, was ok about how he'd lived his life, felt deep assurance as to where he was going after he breathed his last. I loved hearing that, want to be like that myself at the end of my days. At the end of my earthly existence, I want to be able to look back on my life and see that I lived it with purpose; that I lived life intentionally, rather than by default; that I lived life with as few regrets as possible; that my life was, to the greatest degree possible, God honouring; to feel confidence, rather than fear, because I know where I'm going. In a way, Friday's experience was my version of committing to new year's resolutions, except that these thoughts seem to resonate far more deeply with me than any of my old new year's resolutions ever have. It was a reminder about living life as if each day is my last. And I realized that I have some work to do before I could claim to live this way.