At 107 years old, the small, frail woman still enjoyed life. Her humor and insight had sharpened with age. When her pastor, Robert Oldham, visited during her final months, she cheered him and herself by recalling the words of the country song “This Old House”: “Ain’t gonna need this house no longer.”

At her funeral, the pastor cheered the mourners by describing the conversation.

‘This old house ain’t been a home,’ she told me, referring to the song. ‘Why, look at it!’ and she began pointing to herself.

“ ‘The roof’s leaking’—she pointed to her thinning hair. ‘The underpinning’s shaking’—and she stuck out her thin legs. ‘And the telephone’s out of order’—she pointed to her mouth, her voice too soft to be heard unless you sat very close. ‘Why, even the window’s foggy,’ she said, pointing to her eyes and her failing vision.’ ”

Family members told the pastor later how much they appreciated that part of the eulogy.

Oldham has conducted more than 200 funerals during his 35 years as a pastor, and he has included humorous stories in about a third of them. “I’ve received many thank-yous from family members, but never a complaint,” he says.

He is not alone in using an appropriate light touch at funerals. At a national pastors conference at Moody Bible Institute last spring, 26 percent of the pastors surveyed reported they have included humor in at least one service. Among pastors with 15 or more years of experience, the figure jumped to 40 percent.

The press recently has reported the use of light-hearted stories during the funerals of two prominent ...

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