What Makes a Funeral a Good Funeral?

I’m sure we’ve all attended a ‘good funeral.’ We’ve probably made the comment about certain services. But what does that really mean?

A few years back, I attended the funeral of a man I had known since middle school who died unexpectedly one afternoon.

His funeral service was one other friends and I labeled a “good funeral.”

What makes a good funeral can be very different depending on whom you ask. For example, I ran across a few web articles that list qualities that transform an average funeral into a good one.

Tim Challies listed the views of Don and George Sweeting in their book, How to Finish the Christian Life. Challies came up with five key points from what he read and he explains them on his site, here.

In a nutshell, the five traits of a good funeral are that it is:

  1. Understandable and faith-building
  2. Worshipful
  3. Christ-centered
  4. Well prepared
  5. Church-based

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that such a book would put a Christian focus on defining a good funeral.

But what I find surprisingly missing from the list is a simple ingredient that I can only assume is missing because they consider it common sense.

That missing ingredient is a certain focus on the dear-departed. Whether it’s a “homegoing” service or a “celebration of life,” it’s still a service designed to help people deal with the loss of the specific person they cared about.

Believe me, I’ve been to funerals where the focus was all about making it appear to be a church service. (And, I’m sorry to say so, but it felt like a regular church service that just happened to have a casket at the front of the room.) There was no eulogy, per se; it was a sermon that had a few instances in which the deceased person’s name was mentioned.

But there were no stories about that person and no real mention of anything that person did in life to help another person. Even worse, anyone in the room who didn’t know the person well but might have come to offer support to a loved one left behind must have left wondering why anyone bothered to show up to mourn a person about whom virtually nothing was said.

I’ve also attended funerals that included communion but not any Christians in the room who weren’t part of that specific church denomination. It struck me as strange that this would be the time to intentionally exclude people, especially if no opportunity was being provided prior to the communion for someone to join up.

When the focus is off of the person who has departed this life, it begins to feel as if the church elements of the service are being presented out of opportunism. When people are already experiencing grief over a lost loved one, that’s like rubbing salt into their already-open wounds.

My idea of a good funeral

At the start of this post, I mentioned having attended what definitely felt like a good funeral a few years back.

Let me give you a picture of what that funeral was like.

First, it was held in a church, but the reason for that is that my friend had a strong faith and loved all people. He spent his time ministering to those around him, and despite his having been gone for a few years now, I had a talk with a mutual friend about some things the departed had said a few years back that made it clear to me that even after death, the dear departed is still managing to minister to those close to him.

There was worship music at the service. It was appropriate because it was the kind of music my friend liked and it was uplifting to those of us left behind. To that end, there was ministry involved in the funeral.

But what really stands out to me, this far back, is the laughter.

Yes, it feels odd to laugh at someone’s funeral. But the people who knew him the best spoke about him, told personal stories, gave everyone, no matter how well they knew him, a better sense of the man himself. In our grief, we found the ability to laugh at the funny things he had said and the funny things he had done, and the quirky ways he showed his love for the people who meant something to him.

It was sad because he was no longer here.

But it was happy because we had a deeper understanding that we were privileged enough to have crossed paths with him at all.

God was part of the service. God was praised at the service.

But that’s because the service was about my friend, who felt that way about God.

What makes a funeral a ‘good funeral’ in your book?

1 Comment

  1. I recently attended my mother’s funeral and I have to say that there was a lot of laughter along with the tears. Many family members spoke – telling humorous stories in some cases – and we really did celebrate her life. She lived so long (she was 94 years old) that most of her friends were already deceased or simply unable to come to the service so, sadly, we didn’t hear from any of her contemporaries.

    Now, my mother was a religious woman so it was held in her church and there was a sermon, of sorts, but it all centered around my mother. In fact, the minister began the message talking about my mother’s shoe collection. She collected little glass and ceramic shoes. He mentioned that he was talking to her one day and asked what sort of games she played as a child. She told him that she was allowed to play jacks but not jump rope or hop-scotch because they were too hard on shoes. Her family was extremely poor and they had to consider that sort of thing. He wondered if that was why my mother collected shoes later in life. (None of us had every heard about how mother wasn’t allowed to jump rope or play hop-scotch before!)

    But look at me rambling! 😀 I’ll stop now.

    In short, it was a good funeral – though I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that about a funeral service before.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.