The last Aunt or Uncle of my parents’ generation died Saturday as I was tied up in seminars, a longish road trip back home, a quick power nap to compensate for a bit of insomnia Friday-Saturday, Vespers, dinner, and finally some Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and social media — where I learned that the anticipated death had indeed occurred.
The Facebook condolences to my cousin, with whom my Aunt lived, were bountiful and well-meaning, but I’ll give you a Pro Tip: Do not rely on funeral home comments or social media comments about a death to build a Christian view of
the afterlife anything.
They seem to fall into an odd category of speech, like “Hi, how are ya?,” that must baffle anyone with autism spectrum disorder, since they are not really what they purport on the surface. Most of what I have in mind is pink ponies ‘n angel wings ‘n reunion with spouse ‘n beloved Fido and such. (I’ve never overheard what my autism-spectrum brother says to the bereaved at funeral visitations, now that I think of it.)
I guess “social convention” is the best label for this category of speech, though it can get pretty unconventional. I recall the parents of an adopted son who had been killed in a traffic accident at age 19 or 20. Greeting the mourners coming through the visitation line, the parents, instead of bereavement, expressed that they had asked the Lord keep their son from damning sins (they said it more circuitously than that — I don’t remember the exact words) and that they were comfortable with this, His terrible swift answer.
I’ve offered my cousin my own Facebook condolences (“Eternal be her memory!”) that probably strike others as odd.
If you want to say something at my wake, maybe the best would be “Finally, he gets some uninterrupted time to figure out all this stuff.” This, too, would be bad theology, but bad in a good way.
But if you stay for my funeral, what you’ll hear will shock you if you’ve never been to an Orthodox funeral. After serving them in a small parish for nearly 19 years, I’d paraphrase thus:
He’s really dead.
Remember him, O Lord, when You come into your Kingdom.
And remember, O man,
That you’ll soon be dead, too.
Thus for about 60 minutes. Then you’ll get a chance to kiss my cold, dead self (I almost reduced that to “body,” but that would be dubious theology) goodbye.
You don’t need to build that, as Christ’s Church already, and long ago, did that for us.
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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)