I was listening to Freakonomics radio recently (I download episodes to a cd and listen in my car) and a woman read the obituary (composed by the daughter) of her recently deceased Mother on the program.
It appeared in a couple of small-town Pennsylvania newspapers last year:
“Carole ‘Fritzi’ Miller Roberson departed this world Friday, December 2, 2011, from her beloved second home in Ajijic, Mexico. She’ll be remembered as an astute business woman, a rabid historian, a fascinating hostess, and a boundless creative. She loved her family, history, antiques, horses, the arts and good gossip. Her regular emails to family were often unintentionally hilarious as her typing was spotty and her typos…And her typos were legendary.. Regardless, Carole wrote short stories and was working on a screenplay. She was a difficult mother and a horrendous mother-in-law. She will still be missed. Carole is survived by her children…..”
We have an unspoken rule in American culture. Do not speak ill of the dead. (Apparently it’s okay to speak ill of the living.) Most of the funeral services I have overseen or attended are very careful to avoid mentioning anything negative about the deceased. Even so, many years ago, I officiated at a small service in a tiny room at a Mortuary with perhaps ten people in attendance. I did not know anyone. Not the now dead Father, his widow or any of his children (he had two adult kids as I recall,) so I asked the oldest son if he would say something in remembrance of his Dad at the short service. I can still see the scene in my mind and it was over twenty years ago.
The son was maybe 35 years old, wore clothing suited for working in one of the trades and stood awkwardly in front of the small group. Like most people who do not have experience with any kind of public speaking, he had no idea what to do with his hands so he gestured with them randomly. “Uh,” he said and paused, “we all know that Dad liked his booze.” That got my attention! This was going to be memorable. I toyed with interrupting him but I figured I would embarrass the son and his Dad wasn’t going to object anyway. “Dad liked to watch TV,” he continued, “and get drunk every night. He didn’t talk to me much or to any of us really. He mostly just drank.”
There was more but I don’t remember it now. The son had no hint of malice in his words. It was just matter of fact. I think he decided all of us know the truth anyway so might as well say it plus he didn’t know what else to say. Incongruously, the short service ended with the playing of “I Will Always Love You” sung by Whitney Houston. It was extraordinarily moving and brought a tear to my eye. They loved this guy.
Since tradition insists we only say good things at a funeral, I’d like to attend my own and hear the nice things that would be said. It seems a waste. Why not have a pre-funeral and say all the gracious things when those we love are still alive?
On the other hand, what if all the truth was revealed at our memorials? What if every foul thought, deed and intention were mentioned? Imagine if our tombstone had a screen across which played all the shameful things which we would just as soon forget.
This is the impression I have as I read Revelation 20:11f. At that moment, all will be exposed because records were kept.
Revelation 20:11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, andno place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. (NASB)
As memorials go, there is an honest legacy recounted in front of this throne. No lies, excuses, obfuscations or defense attorneys. An entire life examined with perfect clarity. Every life of every person who has ever lived. The dread of such a moment is perhaps the reason we rarely speak ill of the dead on this earth. The truth about all of us is coming soon enough.
Thankfully (and I am very grateful) there are exceptions to the “every person who has ever lived.” Not exceptional people to be sure but people just as guilty as everyone else. What sets them apart is their response to the Call of Christ. The invitation to eternal relationship with the Living God starting now and continuing forever. I recommend it to everyone enthusiastically! When the books are opened, your name will only have gracious things written there. ” Hey Jesus, remember when Brian did that awful thing back there in ’75? No, I don’t.”