Our lives are filled with celebrations marking the beginning of things: marriage, births, commencements, house warmings, inaugurations. And, we have several ways of tracking life in the meantime: birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, job promotions. But, we really don't seem to have a handle on how to make sense of endings: divorce, death, bankruptcy, retirement, chronic disease. It's like we spend much energy at the beginning--party!--trying to keep the party going as it slowly fizzles--who wants cake and ice cream?--all the while knowing the end is coming. To use a travel metaphor, we get worked up preparing for the trip, try to enjoy the journey, but have no idea when we've arrived. It's almost as if we've heard the mantra so long--it's not the destination that matters but the journey--endings feel like failure.
Now, of course, I'm not suggesting that we cut against the grain of disappointing loss by offering some contrived celebration: "yippee, I'm divorced;" or "ding, dong the witch is dead!" That's why the recent trend of "designer funerals" appears so foolish. A guy's coffin is made to look like the car of his favorite NASCAR driver, or a football fan's wake is attended by faux-cheerleaders of the NFL team he spent every Sunday rooting for. I see what they're doing. They're trying to celebrate the end. But it just comes off as campy and downright disrespectful. Repeating the line, "Harry would have loved this!", doesn't make it any better. Such arrogant words can only be spoken by the living, and they work like a hammer driving the last nail in the coffin.
Those of us who attend Christian funerals don't fare much better. We try hard to say something nice, something important, hoping to sum up the life of a man in thirty minutes. But, I always leave these funerals feeling like something's undone, like we forgot something, as if there was so much more to do, so much more to say. Indeed, death always feels like a bad ending to a good story.
Then I think of Good Friday. How the disciples walking away from the crowd that day must have felt the same way. How the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus seems to capture much of what I'm feeling as I walk away from the funeral, needing to mark the end of things with a celebration.
Then we gather for food around a table. We talk. We eat. We even laugh at the funny stories of our shared life. But that makes me long ever more for the day when we will celebrate the good ending.
I wish we knew how to celebrate the end of things.