Death to Funerals

On a recent hike with one of my best friends I mentioned my distain for funerals and he nodded knowingly. You see, he turns 40 this year – and I’m only a year away – so deep conversations are more prone to brush up against things like mortality. But when I elaborated he realized that my commentary was not something he expected or knew I felt, so he stopped me and said… “You really ought to blog about that.”

So. Here I am.

I hate funerals. I do everything I can to not attend a funeral. It’s not their somber tone. It’s not a fear of death. They make me angry. They feel selfish.

At most funerals one person or many stands and speaks about the person who’s no longer with us. Some highlight the best in the departed. Others tell their favorite traits or memories. And if you were close to the person, your love grows in that moment –solidifying into a warm and bittersweet diamond in your heart. There are tears, and often laughter, and streams of well-wishers offering condolences and “remember when”.

In the midst of all of this I can never shake one overwhelming thought: Did they know? Did the person who died ever hear these things? Was the love and importance shared at their funeral ever shared with them?

Most of the time, I doubt it.

And if the person standing at the lectern sharing a memory or fighting back tears never looked the deceased in the face and said “you matter to me… here’s why, and how much.” Then their memories aren’t a tribute, but a selfish attempt to deal.

Of course, tragedy strikes. The unexpected and terrible steals people from us before we are ready. You can’t always get a long time to prepare, share, and love those who matter before they are gone.

But I can’t help thinking that life is hard every day. In any given moment someone we love is struggling with self-worth, weighing their contributions, or feeling overlooked. What if the things we’d say at a person’s funeral were being shared right now? How many lives would change? How much more would the tribute of a funeral ring out in celebration instead of sorrow for too little too late.

When John Hughes died suddenly I wondered if he knew his impact on those around him and around the world. I’d like to think he did, but Hollywood is fickle and families often struggle to share the things that should be said.

Now, Tony Scott, a man of real success by any Hollywood standards, appears to have cut his life short. I didn’t know him personally, but my brief professional interaction with him showed a man of class as well as talent. Facebook exploded with fan tributes. Hollywood will likely mourn his loss publicly. I’m sure there will be speeches remembering the best of who he was and legacy he leaves behind.

Yet again I can’t shake the question… Did he know? Would things have been different if he had known the impact he had made, and was still making, in those around him?

Do any of us know who we are to others?

Our culture has a tradition of speaking out about our value once we are gone… but no tradition of doing so when we are still around. What if major life milestones, be they birthdays or events, were hard-wired with accolades and honest sharing of a person’s worth and value? So many of the worst things we do to ourselves rely on hiding in the shadows of our own perception. Loneliness, self-injury, eating disorders and so many more terrible things rely on darkness and isolation to do their damage. If we threw open the light of day and love onto those around us, I do believe we’d cast out many of life’s demons along the way.

I am failing here. Regularly. I endeavor to hug my friends and free myself to say “I love you”… speaking their worth and talents out-loud for them to hear. I do mean “free-myself” because the reasons I don’t are almost always selfish. I worry about the timing, the perception, the weakness it might show if I just praised someone else or loved on them for their talents and contributions. So I don’t do it nearly enough. People around me bless me every single day and I rarely acknowledge their impact on my life.

When we lose someone we can’t help but speak of what they meant and the hole they filled. The vacuum left by their passing aches like an open wound. Death will always pain those left behind, but our busy “me” culture sets us up to overlook the very people we will mourn the most.

At funerals we hear “if I only had more time” and “I wish I could have said….”. These thoughts are tragedies that will eat at the survivors like a cancer. Every time we spend with others could be the last. And inside every moment is a chance to give love, to share a person’s worth, and to speak into the lives of those who fill you up.

I think about my son. If I ceased tomorrow who would fill him up?

I think about my dad. If he ceased tomorrow would he know how much he filled me?

The list goes on… and I have many things to share with others.

Life to the living. Death to Funerals.


  1. When it might mean something we say nothing but when it’s to late we say words that sound false along with the tears-for whom-ourselves.

  2. A year ago, the twenty-something son of a casual friend committed suicide with no provocation other than depression. My friend seemed truly grateful for my presence and meager attempt at comforting conversation. He desperately needed support and I was moved to help him.

    I appreciate your perspective Todd, but I think I will continue to attend funerals.

  3. I totally agree with what you’re saying. But I think funerals serve many purposes. They provide closure, which for some personalities is crucial to the grieving process. And how much better and healthier it is to grieve someone’s passing when surrounded by others who knew him/her, not in isolation! Funerals provide that platform. They also provide an opportunity to show respect: To drop everything going on in your own life, to sacrifice your time shows respect — for the person and for the seriousness of death. And it’s about being there for the close friends and family, supporting them (like Mike Mc said), showing you care for them in times of difficulty.

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