The service starts when you stand at the lectern, look at the people in the front row, take a deep breath, and say, “We don’t want to be here.”
But let’s begin about fifteen minutes before the service is scheduled to start. This is a confusing time, emotionally, physically, relationally. That’s because, in all the rest of our lives we are hurrying to get to the next moment, the next thing. Even on the day of the funeral, we’ve been preparing and planning and worrying. And though we know the time to say goodbye is coming, we don’t want it to happen.
However, to be emotionally present in the service, we need to get our hearts and minds ready for the service.
So here’s the plan:
- Stop conversations
- Gather family
- Walk in
In this final 15 minutes, people will still be in line talking. Family members will be getting anxious, which looks like a last smoke, two last trips to the bathroom, kids under 11 getting more intrusive. Quietly, but intentionally, remind family and friends and yourself that the service will be starting, and they need to be prepared to sit for awhile.
In some situations, guests are arriving at the last minute and want to express their condolences and tell their stories. Because the guests are more aware of their need to say something than the family’s need to be ready, the conversations need to be stopped. Funeral directors are helpful at heading people off. So fifteen minutes before the service starts, start working with the funeral director to get the family together and get everyone else to their seats.
Many families have a final gathering before walking in together. This means standing in a circle looking at each other, encouraging each other. It may mean someone, you, praying for the strength and peace and words for the next few minutes.
If the casket has been open and will be closed for the service, this is the time for closing it for the last time. That will be hard for some people. Give them a moment.
If you are in a church, the casket will be wheeled in from the back by the funeral home staff. If the service is at a funeral home, the casket or urn is already in place for the service. The family gathers outside the room, takes a deep collective breath, may pray together, and then walks in.
The family will enter in order of closeness to the person who died. So if a wife died, the husband will go in first, then children and grandchildren, then all the rest of the relations. But be flexible. If a newly-widowed woman needs help, a grandchild could walk in with her. If there are complicated relationships, sort through them as compassionately as possible. If someone could disrupt the service, make sure the funeral staff know.
In either the church or the funeral home, someone will reserve the seats.
As the service leader, you’ll move to the front before the procession comes in. You’ll stand out of respect. And if the casket is being wheeled in, ask everyone else to stand, too.
And now, it’s time to start the service.
Before you walk into the room:
Check the mic.
Make sure you have tissues.
Make sure you have a mint for after the service.
Make sure you have water (or coffee).
Make sure you have your notes and Bible.
Check your teeth.
Check your clothes.
Turn off your phone.
Take your keys out of your pocket.
Take a deep breath.
Look at the closest family member or friend
(just to establish connection before you start.)