Lessons from a Funeral

Why is it that we have to stand at the threshold of death to honor life? Why does it take putting on our “mourning” black to appreciate the miraculous hue of life? Whether we stand at the graveside or hear in passing an antidote of tragedy, each provides a wake-up call to the sanctity of life. Shame on us when we take for granted life’s gifts: the words, I love you, imparted by those we love dearly, a raucous belly laugh shared with our wittiest friend, a kiss, a yummy meal, a good book, a moving piece of music, an encounter with a gingko tree shedding its gilt leaves in the fall, or maybe just a day when all feels right in our world and we feel good in our skin. I like to call it a day when our soul is smiling!

Recently, I was honored with the task of performing a funeral for a woman I greatly admired. Not only was she a gladiator in the ring with cancer, but she showed me what it looks like to cherish life in every breath. Even in her darkest days, her eyes were full of light, her lips curved up in a hopeful smile, and her faith radiant. Forgive me now for stating the obvious. But when writing one’s eulogy, you rarely give ink to the size of their bank account, work promotions and accolades, the events they chaired, or the number of Picasso’s on the wall. Eulogies worth remembering cover one’s capacity for love, one’s willingness to put other’s before themselves, the deep well of their joy, the importance of their family, their church, and their love of God. And it’s always fun to celebrate their passions in life too: dancing a tango, tending to their roses, cooking, or collecting sharks teeth every summer on a South Carolina beach. The goal is to walk through that Holy Door one day leaving behind a treasure trove for those left behind…a life bursting at the seams with love, joy, selflessness, and gratitude.

Lessons from a Funeral:

1. Be the turtle in the race of life. Slow down and be present in each moment. I fear we often miss the sweet nuances of life because we are carelessly busy and fixated on the finish line. One thing at a time. One conversation at a time. One hug, one laugh, one sunset at a time. Life is ripe with grace. Seek the “sweet spot” in every encounter.

2. Check your pulse. Yeah, you are still breathing! The day will come when the bell will toll for each one of us…but it is not here right now! So, stop sweating the small, trivial stuff, the ridiculous things that have no merit and keep our souls in a tangle. We are all guilty of this crime. What did Jesus say? We cannot gain an extra hour of our life from worrying. Advice: Don’t worry until you are given something to truly worry about. And then when that day does come, and it will: Trust in the Almighty to see you through. I have seen it happen enough times to know that God does take your hand in the valley of the shadows and leads you back into the light. In the meantime, spend the seconds doing BIG THINGS:  First, make sure the people you love… know you love them. You can never love too well! Lavish them with the best of your heart. Second, invest some of your inhales and exhales doing something with your life that is bigger than yourself (Hint: It usually requires putting another before yourself). The story doesn’t get good until the hero gives his or her life for another. It’s love at its best. And what’s wrong with making God smile every now and again!

3.Joy is good. I don’t know if it is our Puritan heritage, but experiencing joy is not wrong. Actually, Joy in big doses is the secret elixir for a healthy soul. Write down what gives you real joy and then make sure it is a regular, dare I say, daily part of your life. The joy I am talking about here is not connected in any way to ambition, dollar-sign accumulation, or self-gratification. I am talking about a joy that you feel deep in your soul. It is a joy that makes you drop-to-your-knees grateful to be alive! Here’s just a start: A walk in nature, break bread with people you love, savor a cup of tea with a warm chocolate chip cookie, curl up to a good book, help someone else to have joy.

4. Be kind. It’s that simple. It’s the number one thing you would have people remember about you! Bite your tongue. It is so easy to spew venom, be impatient, judgmental, gossipy, and negative. What is the old phrase? You can either be a fountain or a drain. Life is too short. And, hear me when I say….kindness evolves the soul! 

5.Be a gladiator. What I mean is life will inevitably test you…choose to be courageous. Now that does not mean you cannot get in your shower and have some choice words with the great Almighty, or weep, and weep some more. Darn if Jesus didn’t sweat blood for goodness sakes. But he also put on the armor and met his fate with courage. Even in my last visit with my friend, her body completely beaten, her eyes remained full of light. Courage is a beautiful thing.

6. Talk to God. You are going to be spending an eternity in his company. You might as well make friends. And, you’ll be surprised how the relationship comes in handy when things don’t go as you planned while still here on earth!

Live in Hope,




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