I attended a somber event last Sunday that at least in part reminded me, among other things, that funerals and memorial services matter to people. And, they are one of the events in a person’s life that can rekindle passionate memories.
Last Sunday I attended the church service at tiny East Moe Lutheran Church in rural Garfield, Minnesota. . . a rural farm community about 8 miles from where I live. It is an area of gravel roads and farm fields. East Moe Lutheran Church was my mother’s home congregation and she was the third generation in her family to attend since the church was founded by Norwegian immigrants in 1886.
What made the service somber was that it was the final service to be held in the small church as the service ended with its closing and decommissioning as an active church. My mom has been gone now for eleven years but I felt a sense of responsibility in attending for her.
The service was led by the Bishop of the Synod who began by asking how many in attendance had received nourishment from a funeral luncheon over the church’s history in the church basement. Virtually, every hand went up. I found it interesting how the first “memory connection” he asked about was one of memorializing our loved ones. An event that funeral directors play a major role in.
After thinking about the Bishop’s beginning question a while I realized I should not have been surprised by it. I had arrived at the service about 45 minutes early because I wanted to peruse the church cemetery and pay respects to my maternal grandparents who are buried there — another point of memory and reflection. I reflected on being one of 8 grandchildren who performed a song at their 50th wedding anniversary in the church in the 1960’s — another memorialization.
And when I walked into the church, I ran into the church president for the past 13 years who was a banker and farmer who touched on the fact that it had been over 30 years since I had helped when his son was killed in a construction accident. I remembered the Sunday morning he called to inform me of that death. . . . another place where a funeral director touched the life of a congregation.
I found a couple of my cousins whose parents, my mom’s brothers, farmed in the area and were life-long members of the church. My aunts and uncles are now deceased and in permanent place in the cemetery. I remember when they died. . . and I commented on how nice a memorial bench that was commissioned in their memory looks in the cemetery.
Sitting in the church you realize that on the walls, along with pictures of past confirmation classes are names of those who served our country in the armed forces. . . some of whom gave their last measure of devotion in that service. I saw some of their relatives in attendance and realized that this funeral director had also played a role in their lives.
It dawned on me that these churches and cemeteries are sacred places not only for the families and the memories that they carry, but they also represent the “American Ideal” of hard work, moving forward, patriotism, liberty and what I would call just good “old-fashioned” American values. These Norwegian immigrants toiled the fields, managed the dairy herds, and then worshiped with the community on Sunday.
And, they always buried their dead with passion and respect. Then they moved forward and carried on. . . it’s just the way life was.
My cousins and I commented it wasn’t until the 4th generation in our family that there was an opportunity to attend college. By that time it was time for that group to make their mark on the world. That movement, most of the time funded by hopeful parents who wanted their children to move forward, and the funerals of those that remained, is what left such few people to carry on. . . .that movement left only 17 members by last Sunday– 8 of whom have seen East Moe as the only church in their lifetime.
There were tears on Sunday. . . but not so much tears of sorrow. Everybody knew it was time to move on. . . . You see, like funeral directors serving our purpose, East Moe Lutheran Church had served its purpose. It was established to be a place of worship and comfort, to teach the word and sacraments for those immigrants and there families in a new country. . . and it did so for 136 years.
As the Bishop said as the end of the service, “I declare this building vacated, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” He commented that what was taught here would be carried out the doors into new places of ministry and in that respect, East Moe Lutheran Church would be carried on.
I couldn’t help but think as an old funeral director. . . . what we teach the younger generation of funeral directors will not be in vain — it, too, will be carried out the doors and into new places and new styles of memorialization, and in that respect, our love and honor of the profession can always be carried on.
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