Sometimes the service will be followed by a brief graveside service. After your words, the family and many of the guests will travel together to the cemetery. (This chapter starts almost exactly like the last chapter. The ending is where the difference is.)
As you prepare this final part of the service, talk to the funeral director about the usual process at this funeral home. When you know what she’s going to do, you can provide a smooth transition from your ending to their process.
For example, the director will often come to the front of the room and tell people that they will be dismissed, starting from the back, to come up the aisle, pay their respects to the family and the body, and then leave through a nearby door. If you know that, you can give those directions before the final prayer and blessing. It will be less jarring to the congregation and will allow the person in the back row, who doesn’t want to come to the front, time to slip out.
After you have finished praying:
If there is a piece of music that the family wants as a final blessing, it can go here or at the very end. As we said in an earlier chapter, the music should be appropriate for the setting and the family and the person. It’s not the place for a piece that will unnecessarily disrupt the feelings of people in the room. (“Hank’s funeral was great. And then they played that song that he hated, but his son wanted. What was he thinking?”)
Summary of the service
These are the last words to the grieving family. I often think through what I know of them and speak short words of encouragement and permission to them. Sometimes, people will respond with tears or chuckles or nods. That’s great. Because in this moment we are leading a transition from the seriousness of the remembering and the message into the moving forward carrying the memories of this day and this person. So we are breathing quiet courage into hearts, strength into legs, and possible words to speak to each other.
So you can say things like,
- Spouse [name], we will be here for you, praying for you, shoveling your driveway.
- Siblings, take care of each other, give each other space.
- Grandchildren, this is hard, especially when you are trying to figure out how you should feel. But those of us who are adults don’t have it figured out either.
- Parents, I give you permission to tell us to shut up when we are saying too much, when we are expecting too fast of a transition.
- Friends, you have courageous choices ahead, about staying connected, about staying changed.
Let people know about any meal that has been planned.
“There is a thing called reminiscence therapy. People tell each other stories of their memories in a group and it helps them make sense. When God made us, he made us to tell stories and to eat.
We call it a funeral dinner.
You all are invited.
Here are the directions.”
Let people know about the dismissal instructions.
“Please remain seated. You’ll be dismissed from the back.”
Offer a benediction or blessing.
This is a prayer that summarizes the moment.
“The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift his face to you and give you peace.
“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.”
“Lord, do not forsake me;
do not be far from me, my God.
Come quickly to help me,
my Lord and my Savior.”
Then sit down. Or go visit the closest loved one.
It’s a toss up. Sometimes the best thing to do is to sit down, to allow the quiet of the moment to linger until the dismissal starts. Sometimes the best thing to do is to go to the closest loved one and express again your support. I can’t tell you which is right. Because sometimes, the loved one needs to sit themselves. Sometimes they need you.
Follow the moment and your heart.
And let the funeral director take responsibility for directing the dismissal.
The director will wait until everyone who is not part of the family and closest friends are gone.
If the casket is open, the director will allow people to say their final goodbye. Then the family will be moved out of sight while the director closes the casket.
The director will call for the pallbearers and instruct them in how to carry the casket or to walk alongside it.
You will lead the casket to the hearse and wait by the back door of the hearse until the casket is loaded and the door is closed.
You may ride in a funeral home vehicle or make other arrangements to go to the cemetery.
In whatever vehicle you get to the cemetery, you need to be at the back of the hearse before the body is unloaded.