“Dad, What’s a Funeral?”

funeral flowersA few Sundays back, I was upgrading my wardrobe from the shirt and pants that I had worn to morning service to a full-blown suit and tie for an afternoon funeral. My four-year-old asked me why I was dressing up. I told her that I was going to a funeral, and in vintage four-year-old fashion, she asked the perfect question…

“Dad, what’s the funeral?”

Is it wrong that I wanted to provide her with a definition that made no mention of death, for fear of not knowing how to answer the next inevitable question?

Thoughts around mortality have rolled through my head more lately than usual.  Some of it is involvement in recent funerals. Some of it is the experience of raising small children and noting how very quickly time seems to pass.  The math doesn’t lie, nor do my joints.  Time is marching on.

Andrew Peterson, on his fantastic new album, says it this way:

And we just can’t get used to being here,
Where the ticking clock is loud and clear,
Children of eternity,
On the run from entropy.

Whatever the specifics, a couple observations linger:

1) Dust to dust is indeed the human reality, and my someday-dust-but-not-yet mind can hardly fathom the concept.  How can it be that friends I enjoyed only weeks ago can no longer exist in the form which I always enjoyed them?  We spoke and laughed and hugged, yet today, all physical traces of that speaking mouth, laughing voice, and embracing frame have vanished.  And my head shakes.

2) My struggle to grasp our own ends pushes me to consider the greater mystery of God’s endlessness.  The Bible portrays the reality that the my bookends of birth and death are merely tiny points upon the infinite shelf of God. Before me and after me, He is the sea in which my life floats.  As Scripture describes it, He goes before me and follows behind me, all the while His hand is upon me.

At times, the sting of death can seem very real.  It cuts through any veneer we have layered on.  It can unnerve us, even undo us.  Andrew Peterson’s lyrics above are affirmed as true: We do not know what to do with death, so much so that one wonders if our original design truly included this wretched feature.

pauseBut as we know, loss feels plenty real.  Sorrow can strike with staggering force.  There is no evading this enemy.  That said, perishing carries a unique perk.  This is why a friend of mine calls death “the great interrupter”.  Nothing hits the pause button as forcefully as death.  Assessments occur; inventory is taken.

In those painfully still moments, sometimes we step back from the canvas just enough to observe the frame on the painting.  And it is then that we observe that life–even in its dust-to-dust nature–is encompassed by One larger than the cosmos.

Surrounded by such loving grandeur, one can indeed walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear.

YOUR TURN: How have/would you handle discussing death with kids? What have you learned from your run-ins with mortality? Your input makes this post better!

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