The Wedding Funeral

29 May

On Monday, May 6, I attended the funeral of my childhood friend, Dale Butler.

My first impression was how like to a wedding it was.

As we walked into the church, we were greeted by tables of photos, mementos, guest books. The biggest difference was the flag-draped coffin. The undertaker (mortician? funeral home worker? What do they call those guys now?) stood with a professional solemnity behind the table with the guest book, greeting comers with a grim nod and a quiet, “Thank you. Please, sign here. Thank you.”

I decided to use the bathroom before the service, and as I was making my way there, past Dale’s coffin, I saw his dad. I said, “Pastor,” shook his hand. It seemed to take him a second, then he said, “Roy!” looked at my mom, “Robin!”

“Took you seeing her to recognize me, huh?” I said with a little grin. Then I thought, “Johnson, you ass!” I had just grinned and chuckled and joked with a man standing six inches from his son’s casket! Yeah, I think I’m a little socially retarded at times. I kicked myself to the bathroom and back, then found my seat.

I hadn’t been to a funeral in over a decade, and that was for my 90-some-year-old great-great-uncle. Before that, my great-uncle Mel. Before that, my great-grandpa. All old, old men. I had no idea what to expect for the funeral of a 26-year-old.

To my mild surprise, things continued with the wedding motif. We were bid to rise by the officiant, the casket was brought to the front by two dour-faced men, the family followed. A toddler in the row behind us felt that she had to keep telling Daddy about whatsoever popped into her little head, and Daddy kept unsuccessfully shushing her. The pastor bid us take our seats, we did. The little girl kept babbling. Daddy kept shushing. (I didn’t look, but I’m pretty sure that at one point, he just put his hand over her mouth.)

And the pastor welcomed us with a story about Dale. I don’t remember it – there were a lot of stories told (Nate said afterwards, “I’ve never been to a funeral with so many references to flatulence.”) – but it set the tone. It told of a time that Dale laughed, that he was a dweeb, that he loved life. Every person that spoke echoed those sentiments: Dale loved. He loved people, he loved fun, he loved life. He loved Christ.

When people spoke of Dale’s attitude toward life, I was again reminded of weddings. How dead they can be. Some weddings I’ve been to, the enjoyment was purely chemical. To love life for life’s sake is folly; to love it as a gift from Christ is to glorify the Giver. Likewise, when relationships begin/get official without acknowledgement of the One who can sustain and enrich them, the celebrations become hollow.

More than anything, that is what made this a wedding. It was not mourning a dead man, it was a joyful celebration of everything Dale was. We were sad that he was gone from us, but glad that he was Home. He was starting his life with the Bridegroom. That belief is what kept the Butlers from falling apart.

At one point, the pastor mentioned a conversation he’d had with Pastor Phil only the Tuesday before Dale died. They’d talked of suffering and pain and loss and perseverance, of how to get through those things, how to rely on God to get you through. Well, God likes to give us opportunities to turn abstracts into experience. Dale’s sister, Holly, spoke of her “tear-drenched Bible,” of midnight Bible studies, sharing verses with each other as they struggled to understand.

I took all of this in as a dispassionate observer. Not only am I socially retarded, I’m emotionally repressed and I tend to think about emotions rather than feel them. But when Pastor Phil gave an altar call, standing behind his son’s casket, I almost lost it. The utter assurance with which he spoke of Dale’s eternal life, the desire he had to share it with as many lost, saddened people as possible… I’m tearing up just thinking about it. I have no conception what it is like to believe that deeply.

Soon after, we closed in prayer. As Dale was led back out, old Baptist hymns sounded throughout the sanctuary. We were ushered out by an undertaker who must moonlight as either a bouncer or a Secret Service agent (dark suit, cue-ball head, permanent grimness). I left with a question, the same one many people have had on their way home from funerals: What do I want said at mine?

Well, I have a short answer. I want to have a funeral like Dale’s. A celebration of life lived, not a mournful assembly regretting life lost. Moreover, whatever the circumstances of my death, I want my funeral to bring Life to those that would have it.

Now for the tricky part: bringing Life through my life

-Forrest Johnson
Forrest Roy Johnson is a Minnesotan exiled to Iowa. His fiction has been featured in The Whole Mitten, Miracle Ezine, and Fiction365. Other fiction is upcoming in Kzine and HelloHorror. Visit to read thoughts on culture, religion, and other things thathe might have on his mind. Visit to see what he’s working on in terms of living a sustainable lifestyle.

photo credit: Heinrock via photopin cc

One Response to “The Wedding Funeral”

  1. Deann Baker May 29, 2013 at 09:52 #

    This was awesome. Thanks for sharing, Deann Baker

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