Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Well, I'm Outraged

Just got back from my grandmother's funeral. Now, many of you have probably inferred that I believe religion has no place in the world. I would like to revise that: Religion has no place in the world. Especially not at funerals.

Some of you are probably formulating a lot of guesses as to which angle I'm going to move at. No, Fred Phelps didn't show up (Though it would have been in his character for my grandfather's: Marine). No, I'm not going deep into one of the familiar comments about the afterlife being escapism. It's true it's escapism. It'd be nice to know we get a few 1-Ups, but there's still no evidence. That's all I'm saying on that aspect for now.

The real fucking outrage is that my grandmother was a footnote for most of the funeral. At the burial site, the reverend went on about how we don't see everything, generic metaphors about the ocean and the horizon and crap like that. After the procession moved to the church, she picked up on the evangelism, and repeatedly mentioned how some positive trait my grandmother had reminded her of Jesus. She kept doing it, one of the last ones ended up provoking an audible annoyed sigh from me. Only thing that otherwise kept me quiet was that I didn't want to make social pariahs of my parents. (To all the atheists out there who can out themselves in meatspace, kudos. I still need more time.) At least I minimized the motions I went through. I didn't sing any of the pointless hymns. I didn't recite the Psalm that the reverend said reminded her of my grandmother's love of science, which struck me less as "look at all the nifty things our deity made" and more "Oh, lord, who art so big." Listen, yes, Batman is awesome. But if by some chance, I'm the one speaking at your funeral, you won't hear me going on and on about him. He's not the dear friend in the casket we're all going to miss.

The part where I really had to bite my tongue was when she said she could listen to her stories all day. So shut the fuck up and get someone to tell us a couple of her stories! She apparently had one of the genealogy-related books my grandmother wrote about the people the various local streets are named after and some of their amusing tales. I need to read the series, sometime. She had it right in her hands. Here's another idea: Get some of her friends and family who won't treat this like an Amway session to go up and share some memories. A funeral is about sharing and remembering the positive impact a person had on all our lives.

Instead, the whole first two-thirds was wasted on very tangentally related hymns, Bible passages, and so forth. That's what I found the saddest part of the day: My grandmother's funeral was shaping up to be a paint-by-numbers affair. Eventually, she got around to covering some of my grandmother's various accomplishments: Two master's degrees, certification in respiratory care, English teacher, writer, genealogy buff. More of that was needed.

After we listened to some overbearing woman singing the Lord's Prayer (very good voice, but she put too much force into it), everyone got up and started working their way back. One of the many people I didn't recognize came up to my parents and said, "I remember once when she taught high school English, she promised her students that if everyone passed, she would get up onto her desk and dance. She did."

THAT is the sort of thing I want to hear about at a funeral.


Aaron Golas said...

I felt similarly at the funeral for my mom's stepfather Roy, 'bout a year and a half ago. Although Roy had long been active in the church, the minister was fairly new, so he didn't know Roy at all. Lots of vagaries, lots of Jesus-talk. Not how I'd want my funeral to go, by a long shot.

My condolences, mate.

Der Geis said...

20-plus years ago when I was in college, my Great-Grandmother died. Not many people have the honor and privileged of growing up knowing a great-grandparent and even fewer could admit to having such an unabashedly wonderful person as a great-grandparent.

At the funeral, her name was mentioned twice. Once at the beginning and once at the end. In between it was Jesus-this and Jesus-that and it was all about Jesus. The bastard at the podium said nothing about the wonderful woman he was supposed to be eulogizing. I don't even think he knew her in life. He read from his book with only "insert deceased person's name here." to personalize the message.

It was an abomination and I have not attended another funeral since. At least, not for my own family members. I have stood outside and saved myself some of the trouble, tainted in knowing that inside, the same disrespect was going on .

Then, my sister-in-law's father died. My wife and I drove to New York to attend the funeral (my parents sent a plant and a card for their daughter-in-law). I stood away from the graveside as I had done so many times before to avoid the horror when the unexpected happened.

The attendees weren't sitting auditorium style to listen to the rabi present some sort of invocation. They gathered close around the immediate family, held each other, listened as the family spoke their feelings and spoke of their own feelings. There were stories and jokes and poems and grief and joy and healing and everything that my family lacked.

I cried. Standing alone, apart from everyone and for the first time in decades I cried for my lost family members. Not so much for the loss of them specifically, I cried for the survivors who had traded this real, human moment of caring and love for empty promises and a collared automaton reading off tired phrases of hollow comfort.

Bob said...

The preacher began by saying that every last one of us came to praise God and celebrate grandma's life. I knew what to expect from that point on. God first. Grandma second.

Nothing but Jesus, Jesus, and more Jesus. Fuck Jesus. There. I said it. Now I feel better.

Dikkii said...

Recently, I attended a funeral at a catholic church for the wife of a friend of mine.

The whole thing smacked of a funeral by numbers thing out of some standard Word template complete with prayers and readings. No hymns fortunately for anyone who's heard me sing.

The whole thing was completely impersonal right up to the eulogies from the siblings.

Not only that, either the priest was a habitual mumbler or was drunk.

I was very disappointed. So much so that I went home and edited my Will to ensure that the civil celebrant who did my wedding does my funeral too.

Joshua said...

Sadly, I can sympathise.

I was so pissed off after that incident that I practically yelled at my mom on the way home, that if anything were to happen to me, to make for damned sure that there are no priests or pastors other religious jerks anywhere near the service. I mean, it really is the most offensive thing I can possibly imagine to do at somebody's funeral, to treat them like an afterthought, an incidental occurrence next to so very great big importance some fucking imaginary asshole in the sky who never did anything for anybody.

Rhoadan said...

1) My sympathies for your loss.

2) Incidents like this make me real glad that my family are secular Jews. Being Jewish means that we don't get this kind of crap. Being secular means that we don't sit shiva for a week. Basically my family arranges for cremation and has a simple memorial service where people get up and talk about the deceased. Some time later, we scatter the ashes over some meaningful body of water, e.g. the harbor of the town where my grandmother grew up, or the bay where my family lived for several years.

The closest thing to a religious service that I recall was held at the chapel of the University my sister attended before succumbing to cancer. We managed to score a Unitarian chaplain for the service, thus assuring a lack of religious nonsense from the minister.

Clint Bourgeois said...

As I said in a previous thread, my grandmother died last week. We had Catholic Mass for her funeral as she was religious. I found the service very nice. The Priest at my family's home church is known for being very fast and the service was over in 33 minutes. That was with my wife singing 6 songs. He burns through the stuff that he thinks isn't that important and tries to spend time on the important stuff. He focused on my grandmother's love for her lakeside home and her family.

I read Psalm 23 at the service and while I don't believe any of that, I did it as well as I could. Like it or not, most of my family is religious and wanted that kind of service. The important part for me was the visitation and socializing with family that I have not seen for quite some time. That's when stories about grandma came up and we laugh about her craziness and the fun we had when she was younger.

Funerals are tough. Not everyone can be happy with them. Grandma was cremated and we ticked off a few of her cousins for doing so. But those were her wishes. Can't please everybody all the time. I just make sure that my wife knows what kind of funeral that I want and that's what's important to me.

King Aardvark said...

My condolences, BD.

Rest assured that the vast majority of preachers will use any big-deal ceremony to focus on Jesus. Weddings and funerals, mainly, but also school graduations if you're at a catholic school, like I was.

MarkH said...

I sympathize empathize, etc. Same bullshit at my family's funerals and we're pretty much atheists (we have some who are in all but name but couldn't quite go for the no-church funeral.

Some goddamn preacher comes into about 90% of the funerals I've been to, says some qualified statement like "I'm sure if I knew her I'd love her too", or "It seems like she was important to so many". Why is this asshole talking?

So yes, I'm sorry, your solace can be the next generation should hopefully do better and exclude the hypocritical clergy.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for your loss, BD.

I was fortunate that my grandma's funeral, roughly a year ago, was actually handled very well. It was, for the most part, about her. The priest's eulogy only had a brief reference to Jesus, and that was like 3 lines at the end. It was incredibly moving, and I even learned a few things about her that I didn't know.

My uncle, on the other hand, who was supposed to share stories of my grandma that family members had submitted decided to spend his entire 5-10 minutes ranting about accepting Jesus before it's too late. Interestingly, he was looking in my general direction the whole time. Maybe he's figured out that I'm an atheist, despite the fact that I never see him? Or was he looking at my mom, who's fairly open about being into all sorts of weird pagan/wiccan crap?

Regardless, his section of the funeral had me absolutely seething with rage. It was all I could do to not mouth off or storm out.

Tom Foss said...

Many condolences, BD. The best thing you can do is ensure that your Grandma lives on in your positive memories and not in her paltry memorial.

It's interesting to see that this is a fairly widespread phenomenon. I had a similar experience with my Grandma's funeral, and my Grandpa's was almost as bad. I've lost three grandparents in the last couple of years, and every service was the same kind of fake, boilerplate, Mad Libs-style speechmaking. It's enough to make me start planning mine in grand detail already.

Also, don't worry about the closet; I'm in there too. I can't see a problem with it as long as it's for practical reasons. And as soon as I can, I'll get out.

Melissa Gay Art said...

My condolences on your loss, made worse by a bloviating asshole who used this awesome lady's death to advance his petty agenda. It really sucks, and almost every funeral I've attended has been the exact same way. I don't ever want my life or its accomplishments to be held up as a recruiting tool for some ideology I shunned in life!