No one likes funerals. Even funeral directors do not like funerals. They are a sad fact of life, and even with a profound hope in the resurrection, we still know that earthly parting is a miserable affair.
I have had a run of funerals this summer. Three occurred during my annual priest retreat. I have had four more since coming to Spearfish. I cannot say that I relish funerals, but I think I do them relatively well. They are not hard in the sense that they are especially demanding in terms of time dedicated to them or emotion spent on them. After all, in a certain sense, I am called to be a professional when it comes to death, and to deal with death often requires that one adopt a certain professional distance. This is not to say that I do not invest in the family of the deceased. I really do make an attempt with each I celebrate to personalize the experience for the family as best as I am able. I generally avoid the "Insert Name of Deceased Here" sort of homilies, though one can only say, "We hope the deceased is with the Lord," in so many ways. As a priest, however, one quickly comes to see that deaths happen every day. The tragedy death visits on any particular family is most often not more than the tragedy it visits on another. For this reason, I think, I seldom tear up when celebrating a funeral Mass. All of this aside, there are certain moments that cause the tears to flow.
By and large, modern funeral procedure has anesthetized us to the experience of death. Funeral Homes prepare the bodies for burial, dress them and lay them in the casket. Likewise, these same professionals generally close the casket out of the sight of the family while the priest distracts them. There is a painful finality in seeing the white ruffle that borders the casket folded back into the box, the lid closed, and the lock set. We generally avoid that experience. For some reason, the timing was off today. The casket had not been closed as the family assembled in the back of the church to prepare for the procession. They stood by as the funeral director made all of the preparations to close the lid. Then, because they were already there watching the proceedings, he gave the family the opportunity for a final word of farewell before shutting the lid. Tears stung my eyes as the widow came forward to gently kiss her husband one final time and to caress his hair as she whispered goodbye.
Death happens every day. And even having adopted a "professional distance," funerals are still hard. No one likes a funeral.