In college, I told my friends that I wanted the Jars of Clay cover of “All My Tears” played at my funeral: “When I go don’t cry for me / In my Father’s arms I’ll be.” I disliked the thought of my loved ones saddened at my death, since I knew I would be “in a better place.” For Christians, the phrase is no mere euphemism; our death brings us to Jesus, sin clawing at our heels no more. In my youthful zeal, I thought my funeral should be a joyous celebration.
I wasn’t alone. Many funerals today are not about mourning death but a “celebration of life.” As our culture discards all-black attire and other formalities of a traditional funeral, families create more personalized—and often more upbeat—experiences to honor the deceased. Earlier this year, the BBC reported on the trend of “happy funerals,” noting that Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” had become the UK’s most popular song played at memorial services—replacing Verdi’s Requiem.
After celebratory memorial services, we are encouraged to “move on,” comforted by memories and knowing that the person we’ve lost is no longer in pain. But this positive focus can afflict and baffle people deep in grief.
As Daily Mail columnist Bel Mooney wrote last year, “Even though modern, cheerful funerals can be hugely touching and beautiful, a part of me wonders whether they show how petrified people are of death, and of the long agony of bereavement.”
Christians understand the impulse to celebrate even as we mourn. A life that was well-lived commends Christ to a watching world, and the hope of eternal life proclaimed ...