The Difficult Funeral

Today I did my first overdose funeral.  It was so very hard – made worse by my own sister dying from complications of alcoholism many years ago now.  So if, like me, you are struggling to know what to say, here is what I said.  Please do not just repeat it.  I mean, I can’t stop you, but that would at least be tacky and lazy.  Instead, hopefully this can help you figure out how to tackle addiction and sudden loss.  Fortunately the family really appreciated it, and I didn’t cry until I gave a sob leaving the room.  This problem will get worse before it gets better.  A lot of funerals are yet to come.

This service was for a young man, but I for privacy I am changing the name to my sister’s.

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Isaiah 65:17–25
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

Sermon

Carrie had a life that was too short, half-lived, and so very sadly ended early.  In conversation with his family I have learned that he had so many good qualities, but maybe he did not have the means to maintain them.  He was very intelligent but maybe too much so as he could not create the framework to make his intelligence live and sing and find its fruition.  At some point he decided to numb and quiet his mind instead. When one silences the mind other parts of the person go quiet as well, so I imagine that it has been a while since the fullness of who Carrie was had been truly seen.  I suspect that you have been missing him for a long time, from way before he left his early body.

It is nearly impossible to be here today and not ask “Why?”  Not just why the death, but why the hard life?  How could a young man with such promise not live a full and happy life?  Why did he seemingly not want that for himself?  I suspect that he did but just didn’t know how to get there.  Life is hard, and even the strongest of constitutions struggle whether they admit it or not.  Some of us for periods of time or forever become swallowed up by these struggles.  Carrie was not a bad person because he was swallowed up.  He got up and fought every day until the last day.  He did the best he knew how to do, I suspect.

Today when we are remembering someone who had a complicated life and too-early death it would be easy to give you simple platitudes or easy answers or try and take away your pain.  But in the long run that would be unfair.  Instead let me try and give you some comfort and hope to carry with you going forward, for complicated times are still ahead.

I picked the scriptures intentionally.  The 23rd Psalm is very well known, but it is also one that could be seen as at least mildly terrifying.  It fully admits that life is not easy, the valley of darkness is real, and there is this table set not at home but in front of our enemies.  Yet God is there.  God is leading us through this time of trial or darkness, and God does not abandon us.  Even when we are in the darkest hour, God never abandons us.  Things might not get fixed or turn out as we wish, but we are never alone.

Isaiah 65 continues this theme.  It gives us a vision of how God wants the world to be.  People are not taking advantage of each other.  Everyone lives up to his or her potential.  There will be fairness and support and long life and joy.  This is how God wants us to live.  And God is just as upset that we fall short of these goals.

I picked Old Testament scriptures on purpose, not to diminish the role of Jesus Christ in our faith journey, but because there is a specific element to these scriptures that is so strong.  In Hebrew it is called hesed, and it refers to God’s never-ending love of us and support for us.  Christ was, in a real way, a culmination of this concept as God came down to earth and lived as one of us, walked with us, and showed God’s face directly to us.  But in the Old Testament this was a concept maybe more appropriate for now since Christ is not physically sitting beside us anymore.

God is always walking beside us, sitting with us, supporting us.  God is with us in the happy times, but more important to know, God never abandons us in the sad or difficult times.  There is a profound recognition that God grieves with us, cries just as hard as we do, sits patiently in the confusion and doesn’t back away when we are angry or yelling at God.  There is this deeply beautiful compassion that is described between the Divine, seemingly so far away at times, and those of us down here feeling so alone.

Know that you are not alone.  Know that Carrie was never alone.  Know that God is grieving his death and the unfulfilled nature of his life just as much as anyone.  This was not God’s plan.  This was not a set-up.  God wanted Carrie to go forth, use his mind, musicality and full abilities to help make this world a better place.  God is just as upset as anyone else – maybe even more so.

But the difficult gift of this is that now Carrie can exist into that potential.  Now he is freed from what bound him here – the anxieties and pain and addiction – and he can be more fully himself than ever before.  He is filled with light, restored to his full self, and is lost in God’s compassion and love.  He is whole.

In the days, weeks, and years to come you will learn to live with Carrie as a memory and not physically there, and this will be hard.  But maybe for you there might be some relief that he is no longer struggling.  It is a comfort that comes with a steep price.  Just as God is with Carrie, God will be with you.  Know that you are not alone, Carrie is free, and that you all are being held, loved, and comforted by the God who’s love and compassion have no end.

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