I have struggled with how to approach this topic or if I should even discuss it. We held my Mother's funeral on July 20th. It was kind of non-traditional for Utah. There was a small private viewing held for her close friends and family who could not be with her when she died. Her children, including myself, did not attend the viewing because we said our goodbyes at her bedside as she struggled with the disease and and eventually died. We did not need that part of closure. We held the service at graveside.
I look at funerals somewhat differently than my religious friends and family do. I don't believe that my loved ones are on the other side waiting for me. There is simply no evidence this is the case. So, the funeral is my last opportunity to publicly memorialize my loved ones memory.
My mother had 4 children. 3 are atheists. My youngest sister is a practicing Mormon. There had been quite a bit of discussion between my siblings and I, with my mother's input ,as to how we would proceed after her death. Her wishes were met as were ours. No one's voice was drowned out and the discussion was civil and all sides were represented. The plan was: My mother would be buried in a pink dress with her mother's ring. She made it clear she did not want to be cremated. She did not care if the coffin was expensive. She did not want the service in a church. She did not believe the Mormons had the corner on god and found them to be pushy and judgmental and she did not want her children to be lectured. If the weather was warm she wanted to service to be graveside. If the weather was cold she wanted us to have it indoors so those who came to pay respects would not be cold. She did not want a viewing if we did not want to hold one. We would not pray at the graveside and there would be no official religious representation.
When we met with the funeral director we outlined what we wanted to have happen and he was extremely helpful in assisting us in meeting those requests. His compassion and sensitivity were a noted quality and we enjoyed, as much as you can, his assistance and would recommend his company without hesitation. During our conversations it was clear that there would not be a religious rite of any kind for this funeral. My mother's sister asked if they could hold a family prayer at the viewing as they closed the casket. It was made clear that we did not have a problem with the prayer (we wouldn't be there after all) if it made them feel better but there would be none graveside.
The service was successful. I conducted. There was a musical number sung by my daughter Jessica and my sister-in-law Jennifer. My Aunt Nene read a beautiful poem she wrote for my mother. I made opening remarks followed by an open mic and concluded with closing remarks offered by me again. I operated in the capacity that my siblings had requested and expected me to. By all accounts, the service was beautiful simple and was exactly the type of service my mother wanted.
|My Mother's Siblings and their families at her funeral 07/20/2011|
We had three guests at our little secular funeral who found it necessary to use the open mic as an opportunity to bear their testimonies. They could not stand the fact we were fine without the mention of the Mormon church or Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation, or even god. Additionally, the hearse driver pulled me aside. He told me that he had heard that there might be an anti-religion sentiment to our service. He told me that he was happy to see that no one was forced out of their beliefs. He thought it would have been wrong to not allow people to speak. My mother's siblings attended the funeral in their Wrangler's. They were dressed informally. I was dressed in a black suit, white shirt, and red and black tie. The hearse driver mistook me for the out voted religious minority at the service. He made a broad assumption that I was a "member of the church" and about shit when he realized he was talking to one of the "angry militant atheists". I was gracious and let him and the other's say their peace. I didn't attempt to stop them. I was non confrontational.
During this process many people have expressed their condolences and a few have had to add that they know my mother is in a better place, is watching down on me, is with her relatives, or is comforting someone else who is recently deceased. As people would offer their religious views including the afterlife while offering their condolences I found myself turning them off or going somewhere else in my head until they were done while graciously accepting their kindness. I don't understand why there is an imperative for them to share those things with people who do not want them. I don't share my atheism unless it is solicited.
My point of this writing is to illustrate how unwanted religious expression is really a two way street. Imagine, if you will, if I were attending a Mormon funeral and told the guests at the funeral that this is it. Your loved one is going to rot in the ground and you will never seen them again. While this is what I believe I have never shared it during a persons most painful or emotional times. What if I made a point of telling them that they can pray their lives away but there is no one there to hear them. Would any of those conversations give comfort to a hurting human? No! Neither do expressions of faith to an atheist. My father-in-law put this in perspective to one of my wife's siblings. He told them, 'you need to understand for Kevin this is it. There is no more and he will never see his mother again.' That was an appropriate acknowledgement of what I believed. He did not offer faith promoting insights to me instead he cried with us and gave us incredible emotional support.
I have said it before, unsolicited expressions of faith are icky. Faith, like your bedroom habits, should be shared when solicited and with like minded people.... otherwise keep them to yourself.
I think the next time someone offers an unsolicited and otherwise inappropriate expression of faith to me my response is going to be... " ...and I like to jog naked." Well, as long as were sharing inappropriate information....