Written By Rev. Jack Elliott |
I was asked to officiate at a funeral a few weeks ago; and when I arrived to meet with the family and perform the service, I was shocked. No one came.
No children, no family, no caregivers, no friends of the deceased. It was just me and the mortician. In my twenty-five plus years as a minister, I thought I had prepared myself for anything. In fact, I thought that I had seen it all–especially when it comes to funerals.
I’ve dealt with squabbling siblings, infant deaths, gang funerals, funerals of children shunned by the families and the church; but never a funeral where it was just me and the deceased.
The mortician asked that I pray over the deceased as his coffin was closing. As I began, I could not help but notice the contentment that seemed to be on the deceased man’s face. It was as if he was perfectly okay with his solitude. Was this the lesson I was to take away from this experience? In the end, aren’t we all “alone”? Don’t we all have to be content with ourselves and our choices?
Many of times I’ve had to comfort a grieving adult child, assuring them that the only reason why so few of their parent’s friends were in attendance was because many of their parent’s friends have already died. They had visions of hundreds of folks paying their respects and honoring their parents, but only a few of their parent’s friends were still around.
And the opposite is also true. We’ve all heard stories of ungrateful children–heartless, avaricious, neglectful, even cruel children–more concerned about their inheritance than the well-being of their parents. I remember something Shakespeare wrote, and I will paraphrase “. . .adult children do their best to satisfy parents who will never, ever feel they’re getting their due, who seem to want back a chunk of the youth they spent on raising their offspring, youth the next generation is squandering so carelessly. Having kids is manifestly not a reliable “hedge” against isolation, mostly because the kind of person who has kids to protect him or herself from loneliness tends eventually to drive those children away.”
So what is the lesson we are to learn from this? Is such isolation always the reality? If so, how do we prepare ourselves to die alone?
I’m not sure how I’ll feel at 79 or 89, but as I approach my 59th birthday this month, I do know this–I want to be as independent, and non-dependent as possible. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned lot about “me” and the life I’ve lived, and I’m fairly pleased with it all.
I’ve learned a lot. Some of it is just “stuff,” movie trivia, stories to laugh about and to write about, not to mention I’ve picked up a pretty good sense of why most people act the way they do.
I’ve also acquired a sense of how all that stuff fits together, and how to figure out the parts of it that matter and, even more important, the parts that don’t. As I’ve mentioned before, my mentor Terry Cole-Whittaker wrote a book titled “What You Think About Me Is None of My Business,” and I’ve been grateful to her ever since. Those words ring out in my mind every time some one judges me, wrongfully accuses me of something, or doesn’t forgive me for making an honest “human” mistake.
It’s a moniker that allowed me to be more open-minded, more tolerant of ordinary human folly and more willing to understand that some people can be blissfully content in circumstances that absolutely contradict my personal ethics and values.
This, I think, makes me a better Spiritual Life Coach, minister, business associate, friend and companion to others, and I know it’s made me a better companion to myself.
Yes, I’ll admit it: sometimes I’ve fantasized about what my friends, partners, and colleagues might say at my memorial. But then again, there was never a gift given, a promise made, a commitment honored, or a friendship offered with that in mind.
If we could all accept that in this world and this life, the only thing permanent, the only thing guaranteed, is our time with our self; and, we need to make the most of it. Situations evolve, circumstances change, people come and go–but we are always there. It’s like the saying, “No matter where you go, there you are.”
I know this for sure, I want to die completely worn out. I want to savor each and every experience the Creator has planned for me, and I want to exhaust each and every conversation possible, and each and every experience afforded me in this life. And I’m willing to do it alone. I’m not willing to wait for anyone to live my life. Join me along the path if you like–that would be a blast–but if not, then I’m going on.
You know, I bet that’s why my deceased friend had such a look of contentment. He’d done it! He’d lived life fully, and when his time came, he waited for no one–he just transitioned onto whatever’s next.
Join Rev. Jack this summer for his Summer Book Club Series based on “The Power of Decision” by Raymond Charles Barker. To join the book club, visit Revjackrelliott.org for more information! Email Rev. Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rev. Jack is a Spiritual Life Coach. He was ordained in 1985 and aligns his ministry with the Centers of Spiritual Living. He serves as the President of the Board of Trustees at Heart and Soul Center of Light, in Oakland CA. www.heartsoulcenter.org.