10 Finishing the Service Without Going to the Cemetery

Sometimes the service is the last formal event of the person’s life. There is no reason to go to the gravesite. The burial may be private. The burial may be another day. The family may have no immediate plans for the ashes.

This final section of the service gives us an opportunity to tie together the pieces of life and death so far and help us walk out of the service into the future.

As you prepare this 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.

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After you have finished the message and praying, these are the possibilities:

Music

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 [name], 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 much.
  • Friends, you have courageous choices ahead, about staying connected, about staying changed.

Closing Instructions

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.
Amen.”[1]

“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.”[2]

“Lord, do not forsake me;
do not be far from me, my God.
Come quickly to help me,
my Lord and my Savior.”[3]

Amen.

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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.


  1. Numbers 6:24-26.
  2. Jude 24-26.
  3. Psalm 38:21-22.

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