We are fortunate to have, on All Hallows’ Eve, a post by The Rt. Rev. Brian J. Thom helping us to remember those who have gone before. Bishop Brian is to be commended for having his post ready before Diocesan Convention, while the hapless manager of this Blog was too overcome preparing to leave town to get it posted last week. Thank you, Bishop Brian for your support!
Unusual. An obituary in our local paper written by a woman before she died. Thirty-eight years old. She didn’t say what would cause her death.
She wanted to write her own obituary because she disliked the usual litanies of great accomplishments and descriptions of dearly-departeds that confirmed they were “the embodiment of a deity.”
Her modest reflections on her average life – her only claims to success were marrying a good man, having two sons, and knowing Jesus – were more an invitation than a farewell. (She did observe that she was no longer afraid of telemarketers, serial killers, or the IRS). If thought of from time to time, she asked that her friends and family express their remembrance of her in a few specific civic and children-related activities. Also, to quit smoking.
I was struck by this unique participation in her own death. In a sense, she was offering her own eulogy. Perhaps her own burial prayer.
The prayers for the dead and their loved ones on pages 470 and 493-494 of the Book of Common Prayer burial offices bid God’s particular care of each. Beyond this, they also help us encounter our emotions concerning both the person and the reality of death. We pray for the one who died and for those who must remain; we desire that the survivors will not be overwhelmed and that the departed will find themselves blessed to be in God’s nearest presence.
All that said, this is a difficult piece for us, isn’t it? Issues of mortality and theology? The pain of loss combined with questions about existence? The BCP verses assume our faith and our loved one’s destination, but I wonder how really assured or comforted we are by them? Certainly the stated hope of reunion with the departed is a theological and cosmological assertion meant to be consoling. Yet, some, like me, find it hard . . . as faithful as we are . . . to accept the assurance of a future blessing as a palliative against a current hurt. Perhaps that is why it would be good for us to encounter these prayers more often than when we attend an Episcopal funeral.
Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, eh?
Ribbon your Prayer Book to page 493 and occasionally read the three prayers, pondering if, one day, you might be object or observer. Read them in moments of strength and, more bravely, in times of confusion or frustration. By God’s mercy, any time spent reflecting on our own end will assuredly inform our present. In that strength, maybe you can begin to live into the testimony that your obituary will one day be.
And, please, join me in giving thanks for Sonia Todd of Moscow, Idaho, who wrote to claim the value of her life in her death.