In seminary and in talking with other pastors I was told that they would rather do a funeral than a wedding. I used to agree.
Now part of the reason I like funerals over weddings is with a funeral the pastor is wanted and welcomed. At a wedding we are an accessory. The bride is the star of the show. The groom gets a little attention. Noone really wants to hear from the preacher except when it comes to the vows and the “you may kiss the bride.” But as far as a message of God goes it is rare that they genuinely want to hear from you. They want to plan out the event to the finest details.
Funerals on the other hand the family looks to you for everything. They ask me to plan the ceremony. They want to hear from you. They are hoping and looking for words of comfort. Or that will help them make sense of the loss of their loved one. They are not in a hurry to have it end. I love being able to help a family through the day. To be able to offer words of hope. To hear the stories of the family. To be invited into the sacred spaces of their lives.
I am tired of funerals.
Death is all too common on the reservation.
We have one of the few places on the reservation that allows funerals. It is common to have multiple funerals each week at the hall. And funerals here are often multiple day affairs. And I am frequently asked to perform the funeral service along with a prayer service. And because of Rez time things tend to not start on time. Today for example the actual service started an hour late. And even with my part only taking about 20 minutes it can take 2+ hours until I am finished at the grave site.
It is NOT just the sheer number of deaths that is eating at me. Though the volume does not help. It is the volume of funerals and the ages of people who we are burying.
I am tired of burying young people.
Today’s funeral was for a 17-year-old kid. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot. He shot himself in the head. 17. His whole life was in front of him. Damn. Looking at him in the casket I was reminded of my boys when they were that age. I can only imagine the pain his mother was in. The final viewing took a while because so many people were overcome with grief. It was heartbreaking to watch.
The suicide rate on the reservation is much higher than the US average. On top of that are the deaths from addictions and poor health. The average life span is much lower than the US average. I have been told that the local funeral home is the second busiest in the state. The funeral today was delayed because the funeral home was back logged and could not get the body ready any sooner.
I have lost count of how many funerals I have done. I think this is a defense mechanism on my part. I am not sure I could face the number if I added them up. But too many of them are young adults. And way too many suicides.
I want to encourage you to NOT wait until a loved one has passed on before you tell them how much they mean to you. Tell them you love them.
One of the things I try to leave with the families is the knowledge that God loves them. And so, do I.