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Memorable Memorials Personalized Homilies for a Fitting and Memorable Goodbye
By Bruce Blum

My first few funerals were for people I'd never (or barely) met, and it was very hard to know what to say. But when Lydia died, and I was prayerfully searching for the appropriate words, it suddenly became clear. Lydia had been a lover of beauty. I never saw her with a hair out of place or dressed in anything that wasn't neat and tasteful. She often told people they were beautiful, and she filled her home with beautiful plants and treasures. So for her funeral homily the theme was beauty, and we considered how God has made everything beautiful in its time (Ecc. 3:10). I was surprised by the positive feedback that came at the time, but even more surprising was how long people remembered and talked about that service as a meaningful part of their grieving. 

One of the next memorials was for L.R., a gnarled old man with a missing toe. I had always marveled over his feet when they came out of his boots at a communion service because they looked like he had gotten a lot of miles out of them. As I worked on his service, I couldn't get those gnarled feet out of my mind. So, with some hesitation about how people would react, I told their story.  "L.R.'s feet were once perfect little baby feet; five little toes on one and five little toes on the other . . . . Not long and L.R. was standing and walking on those feet, still perfect little feet . . . Over the years those feet began to show some wear. No longer beautiful little baby feet, they began to be shaped by the work and toil of a man who worked nights at the hospital and days on the ranch. The toes began to develop bumps and angles they hadn't known before, the arches flattened, callouses thickened . . . ." After describing the slowdown of aging the story continued: "Finally, with a broken hip, L.R. was off his feet for good, carried again like a little baby . . . . He died just a few days later, but I believe that this is not the end of his story, nor of the story of his feet. The Bible tells about a place where L.R.'s feet will hold his weight again, and walk again and even run and jump. They'll be perfect again, not missing any toes, straight and strong and finely formed as if they were chiseled out of fine marble by the Master Sculptor . . . ." Again the response was overwhelmingly appreciative, and I think I understand why. I suspect that a personalized memorial helps people grieve well because they feel like they have honored their loved one by saying goodbye in a fitting way.
I could tell about Paul, the unbelieving husband of a church member, who took great pride in being unpredictable. A month or two before his unexpected death he announced that he was beginning Bible studies with the pastor, much to our surprise! At his service we celebrated his surprise turn toward God when none of us knew his time was short.
For Larry, the wildland firefighter, the homily was the gospel according to firemen: after telling the story of how Larry had risked his life to show his crew the way of escape from a death trap, I shared about our God who risked everything to give us a way of escape from certain death. For Wendell the former air force officer, airport immigration officer, and air traffic controller, the theme was the journey – from this world to a better eternity.

We celebrated Fae the artist as "A Masterpiece in Clay", and for Wilda, who hated change, we talked about a change even she would welcome, "If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come." (Job 14:14 KJV)
Though I am not always able to find just the right theme, crafting personalized memorials has become a very satisfying part of my ministry to the grieving. I hope this sampling inspires some Best Practices readers to try it out themselves.
Bruce Blum is pastor of the Manteca and Escalon churches in California