Reflections from Faith Today writers about funerals they have attended
Held by the Great Comforter
Grief hung heavy, like a dense fog rolling low up the entryway stairs and into the funeral chapel. Groups of well-dressed thirty-somethings gathered in the parking lot while dozens of older friends and family made their way inside. Photo collages of a sparkly-eyed boy growing through his teenage years and into adulthood lined the room to the left – memories of times that were happier, lighter, easier. They told the story of a gifted athlete, a dear friend and brother, a beloved son. A large, imposing casket commanded the front of the room, a devastating end to a life of just 32 years – Corey.
Seats were quickly filled, and his family filed into the front row, still in a state of shock. Corey’s mom and pastor had prayed prior to the service, asking the Holy Spirit to invade this place. As the service began a presence of peace descended over the room. Person after person stepped to the microphone, all bravely recalling a sensitive, caring soul who rose early to watch the sun rise over Lake Ontario; who woke his mom after those sunrises with a coffee and a good morning; who loved every person, pet and plant he met.
Corey had struggled in his final years. Life was not easy, and the pandemic only exacerbated his isolation and loneliness. But as the pastor spoke of this young man’s love for the Lord, of the talks they’d had about God, and of a recent dream he’d had before passing, it became clear the Spirit of God had been with him in his final days, pulling him close.
The funeral was filled with Jesus’ presence. As white doves flew from their cages into the clear, blue sky, peace and hope ministered to the many aching hearts – our Great Comforter held us. –JULIE FITZ-GERALD
Space for lament
A few years ago the mother of a longtime friend of mine died. She was Jewish, and while my interactions with her had been few and far between, I’d loved her for her warmth, her willingness to share recipes and wisdom with me over the phone, and her obvious pride in her family.
Her funeral was the first Jewish service I’d attended. I remember the stark atmosphere, the lack of flowers when I entered the prayer hall – flowers represent life to Jews and this gathering was about death.
The service involved prayers, psalms and a eulogy – delivered by my friend. I couldn’t help thinking of how proud his mother would have been at his obvious strength, dignity and words of love for her. But the overall atmosphere in the synagogue was one of lament. I was struck by the contrast with some secular funerals I had attended recently where there seemed to be a forced effort to celebrate.
Allowing time and space for lament, and for the grief of the mourners, seemed to me to honour the life this beautiful woman had led, and to acknowledge the gift her life had been to others in a way no celebration could ever have achieved. –PATRICIA PADDEY
Flying to a funeral
I manoeuvred my carryon into a mercifully empty overhead bin with as much grace as I could muster. It simply wouldn’t have done to have it slip out of my hands and hit a stranger.
Just like it simply wouldn’t have done to have had the zipper burst open on the jumble of feelings that still swirled in me • even though a week had passed since my father had called to tell me Niall, my youngest brother, had just died.
Niall was 39 when he died from a pneumonia we now know had lingered undiagnosed for two months. Born with severe Down syndrome, he never grew beyond 4’7" and never grew out of his sweet smiles. I had enjoyed those smiles infrequently in the 35 years since I’d flown away from Trinidad – eager to leave, eager to transplant myself into the cool sterility of York University, Toronto.
My mother had asked me to deliver eight minutes’ worth of memories at the funeral, and I’d only scratched out an outline of sorts on the flight. But now, as the plane doors opened at Piarco International Airport, I steeled myself. I’d have to unzip that carryon if I wanted to write in truth. It was the only way I could offer a piece worthy of Niall – a peace that respected our parents and most of all, his surviving twin. I stepped into the humid night air and hoped in the writing my healing would begin. –RENÉE JAMES
A community says goodbye to a pastor
Last summer my friend lost a huge presence in her life – her father – and his funeral service helped me understand who he was and the legacy of faith he left behind.
Born in the village of Thidanad, Kerala, India, Philip Philips talked to and prayed over countless people as an air force chaplain and pastor in India. When he and his wife of 54 years, Stella, immigrated to Canada, he served as the founding chaplain of the first Canadian airport chaplaincy in 1978 at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. He also served as a pastor who cared deeply for his flock. A memorable New Year’s tradition included a service where attendees would receive a personalized verse for the year. But prior to public service, Rev. Philips’ ministry began at home.
Through testimonies from his siblings, nephews and nieces shared at the funeral, I learned how Rev. Philips’ life positively impacted those around him as a spiritual leader and mentor. Through his leadership at gatherings and prayer meetings, the family grew closer to each other and to God. His bright smile and sense of humour came up in many anecdotes, and after the service the family gathered in his honour to share his favourite meal – KFC.
When my friend spoke about her father, I saw such strength, wisdom and faith. I thought of how her spirit and all the testimonies I heard that day honoured Rev. Philips’ life. We may never know the full extent of the ripples from each life that he touched. Despite attending this funeral virtually, I felt closer than ever to my friend. The service allowed us to grieve and join hearts as we celebrated the very full life of Rev. Philips, a faithful leader and servant of God. –MELISSA YUE WALLACE