Monday, December 13, 2010

Funeral II

Saturday there was another funeral. Although it was a member of my church, the family had a colleague from another parish do the funeral at a local funeral home. It was all rather strangely handled, but at the end of day I can't really go against the family's wishes. Still, I was invited to preach, at least. The service only lasted 20 minutes (the family didn't want any hymns or tributes/eulogies)--and liturgically was the diametric opposite of the funeral service we did for Daphne the week before.

It's quite remarkable to reflect on how varied funeral liturgies can be. They are probably the most contingent of all the liturgies we do regularly in church. Contingent on the family, contingent on the timing, contingent of the presider, contingent even on the weather! So much of what we do around death betrays our cultural location.

It was a pleasant enough funeral and the turnout from Church of The Messiah was strong. It was fine. My colleague was professional and polished, as was the funeral home staff (mostly).

I say mostly because of this odd thing that happened... After the reception Betsy and Henry and were poking around the showroom at the funeral home. We were looking at the caskets (yes, death is expensive) and the urns. Some of these are so cheesy I swear they are there as a kind of negative example to swing people towards a moderate, rather than budget, priced item. Anyway, we were poking around in there for a minute and one of the funeral directors walked in. "And who is this?" he asked looking at Henry.

"This is Henry," I said.

"Henry! Does Henry want to be a funeral director someday? Henry, do you want to see the basement? We have an operating room down there. But it's not very pretty, it's kind of old and yucky, actually...."

Betsy and I agreed, in the car, that this guy was just creepy. I had heard before that the "operating room" at this particular funeral home is a positively medieval affair that hasn't been modernized since the 1950's. Morgues and places like that are frankly creepier in person than they are in the movies and TV, and old ones are triply so.

Sidebar. Morgue sets are expensive to build, so a lot of the police shows you see on TV actually shoot those scenes in real morgues. Also, the morgues in the hospitals I've worked at aren't marked "morgue." Instead they usually have some innocuous title on the door like "Storage" or "Room B204." You could write an interesting paper about how the hospital architecture denies death.

Sidebar #2. Here is a counter example, however. At Yale-New Haven Hospital we also a "Bereavement Room" near the ER. When someone died up in the regular hospital rooms we would do viewings with the families up there, but if someone died in the ER we would move them to this room. The Emergency Department is a busy place with little privacy, and the hospital administrators would just as soon turn around the beds as fast as possible, anyway, and a proper viewing can take an hour or two. So YNHH had a special room where we could put the deceased and their families. It was great, we loved it. They something similar in Newborn ICU. This an example of a hospital really understanding how to handle death in a healthy way.

Anyway, that was the second Messiah funeral in as many weeks. I've told some of my leaders that I think we should have some notes set aside for each of our older members, just in case. We should have a list of whom to call, for instance.

After the funeral I visited a Messiah kid who is in the hospital. I found it more difficult than I usually do. Hard to see a kid in the hospital. My mind wanted to picture what I would do if Henry was in that bed. Ah, "Transference!" learning to deal with transference is a critical skill in pastoral care. Anyway, it was a good visit.

On Sunday I was struggling a bit. I was just off my game and making all kinds of mistakes. For example, I failed to remember or notice that this is the one Sunday a month when we do Anointing for healing during Communion. The Chancel Guild hadn't noticed, either. So I had just starting giving communion to the choir and when I got to Betsy she whispered, "Anointing?"

I briefly considered in my mind whether I should perhaps skip it this Sunday. Then I thought about all the people hurting in our community right now, including me, and decided to make it work. So I signaled to a priest who attends my church. He came up and took over giving communion like a pro. Meanwhile, I went to my office to grab my anointing oil (I had taken it with me to the hospital the day before). Back in the sanctuary, I went to a side area and began anointing people as they came up and knelt. More than usual. When it seemed that they were finished, and my two theological students were just doing the ablutions (cleaning up the dishes after the Eucharist), I signaled one of them to come over. "Have you ever anointed anybody?"

"No?" she replied as I kneeled in front of her.

"Ok, I'll be your first. Just makes the sign of the cross on my forehead with the oil and pray." Then I tried to remember the formula that I use for anointings. The formula I had just said about 15 times without hesitation, and it was gone. Just not in my head. Wow, I thought, I really am hanging out on the ragged edge. "Ok, I can't remember it. Just make something up." My student laughed. She then prayed over me just fine.

I needed it. I was struggling. What a weekend.

Today I did some Christmas shopping and some other errands. Made a stew for dinner. Also made a batch of Fish House Punch and did some Christmas decorating. Henry had to come home from Daycare early because of a fever, so Betsy and spent much of the evening caring for him. It's probably just a little cold.

Tomorrow it starts again!


1 comment:

babahr said...

and at the end of it all, you must have felt pretty good for not just persevering but pulling it all off with some aplomb. Rock on.