Do you think that telling the truth is important? Do you think honesty and straightforwardness are virtues?
When I stand behind the lectern and deliver a funeral ceremony I have always tried to be guided by the needs of the family and those mourners who have come to support them and pay their respects. My ability to deliver a ceremony is based on the sharing of memories, as I am usually a stranger to the deceased.
I have to maintain a strong belief that what I am told is true and therefore I can repeat it feeling that I am speaking in honest terms about the life lived. I have often mused what I would do if I knew I was being fed a load of rubbish which I was then expected to regurgitate.
Delivering the eulogy is the easiest part of the job for me, creating it after visiting the family is the hard bit...you have to listen and listen carefully, not just with your ears but your eyes too.
In recent days I have delivered tributes for a lady who died at the age 94, and a man who ended his own life at 39.
In meeting with the families it soon became apparent that they both needed a degree of finesse in reaching a final ceremony that would serve their needs. For obvious reason I cannot go into specifics but needless to say I worked hard and prepared two unique ceremonies for two unique lives. The first was delivered without difficulty and the family were very pleased with the result, the second was more problematic because as I tried to deliver the ceremony I had prepared another one popped into my head.
It was for the same man but the words I had on paper did not come out of my mouth - instead I found myself talking about perspective and judgement.
We are very complicated creatures and we show different aspects of that nature to the people we share life with. Some are able to see more than one side of a personality because of the time they spend in that persons company but others might only see one glimpse of a mans life and from that glimpse draw a conclusion of what they are like.
The mourners all knew that the deceased had killed himself, and that had led some of them to reach a certain truth about him and his life - you could see the pity in their faces.
I pointed out that pity was a judgement on the life of the person they must have loved, or else why be at his funeral?
What really gives us the right to judge the life of another because of one choice and one decision that might have been driven by circumstances well beyond his control?
As it happens, I was very well aware of some of the reasons that may have helped this young man decide to end his life and I understood his choice. More than that, I can acknowledge his right to make that choice.
Buzzing around in my head as I spoke was a feeling that he had been truthful in his choice, and although some there believed his choice was indulgent and selfish it was plain that in his mind there was no other choice...and I knew as I looked into the eyes of his sisters that they believed that too. So I told THAT truth to the congregation. I challenged them to judge the choice if they wished but not to judge the man who made it.
Of course you don't have to agree with the choice, you can feel sad that it was made and that a life was ended, that is a valid response - but to judge the man is a different matter altogether.
I can hear you all saying, but Guru, you constantly judge others in your insightful witty way...this is true but of course I am the exception that proves the rule.
How do we sum up a life in words, in twenty five minutes, in a room that is designed to remind us of death? We could tell the story of where someone is born, goes to school, works, talk about their hobbies and retell a few funny tales or perhaps we should just acknowledge that a life is more than words and a list of things.
My closing words to the family and friends of the young man who died were something like:
...it's about the connection, that's the reason he sticks in your mind and in your heart and you know you'll never be rid of that feeling. It's because of all the choices he made with you, for you, because of you and of all the choices you made in return. It's because above all else he was who he was - and he could never be anything other than true to his nature. He was honest about that and he remained honest about that to the very end. Don't we applaud honesty in this country? Don't we hold honesty in high regard? Here lies an honest man...
Perspective and truth. I don't claim to be right all of the time and I know that some went away from that funeral a little lost but I also know that those who knew and loved that man best of all gave me the biggest hug and walked away with a renewed respect for the honesty of life and death.