Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On Graveside Flowers, Roadside Memorials and Other Superfluous Things

What I am about to write will upset some people. If you feel you can't handle it, turn back now.

It is a beautiful pre-Spring day today in Kingsport. As I passed the cemetery on my way to the office, I noticed that several people were out decorating the graves of their loved ones with flowers. It dawned on me that Spring officially kicks off this Friday and those folks were getting a jump on things by taking advantage of the beautiful weather. But my mind immediately began processing the whole idea of flowers and memorials for those who have departed.

Why do we buy flowers for dead people? I can come up with a few reasons:
  1. To honor and pay our respects to the dearly departed.
  2. To show support for the surviving family.
  3. To make ourselves feel better by doing something.
We buy casket sprays and numerous flowers that are placed on stands all about the casket and graveside. Occasionally, the enterprising ones will buy house plants that can be taken home by the family and enjoyed for as long as they can keep them alive-- which, in my house, is not very long. Sometimes we maintain flowers, albeit fake ones, on the graves in perpetuity.

Some people also like to commemorate the deaths of loved ones by creating roadside memorials. I'm sure you have seen these. You are driving along a busy thoroughfare and look off to the side and there it is. Perhaps it is a sign, or a makeshift cross, or even more flowers placed at the location of the accident that caused the loss of a loved one. It happens so often that some communities have been forced to enact legislation that prohibits these memorials because they may, in fact, be an obstruction that could potentially cause another accident.

Then there are those who memorialize their loved ones by dedicating the back windshields of their vehicles to the dearly departed. I have often wondered if people bought a car with the insurance money, felt guilty about it and then decided to have professional lettering done to dedicate their new car to their loved one. I will allow Paige to do so only if I leave her enough money to buy a Cadillac Escalade. If she puts my name on the back of some cheap import, I will seek God's permission to haunt her. Of course, I'm kidding... but I digress.

Finally, there are those who purchase advertising in newspapers and other periodicals dedicated to their loved ones. Perhaps you have seen these as well. You are flipping through the newspaper and you see a small one column ad that has an old picture of a person who died at some point in the past and then the ad says something like, "Dear Bobby Joe, although you have been gone for five years, we still miss you. We love you so much and we are glad that you are singing with the angelic chorus. We can't wait to be reunited. Love, Mary Sue and your loving family." First of all, I don't get this one. Secondly, do we think that the departed will read this?

Please understand, the purpose of this is not to belittle any of these activities...okay, okay so that last one is a tad belittling, but seriously people. I have enough education and experience to know the therapeutic value of many of these activities from a counseling perspective (even though these things can also complicate the grieving process- that is a blog for another day.) I write this to let you know that I, personally, would prefer not to have these things done for me in my name. When I die, preferably years from now, if you would like to do something for me, here are a few ideas.

If buying flowers makes you feel better, buy some and take them to a shut-in. Sit down and talk with him or her and spend some time telling them that I wanted you to do this so that you could encourage them and introduce them to Jesus if they don't know Him.

If you want to spend money then forget hundreds of dollars for flowers and go give money to my church, or the Tennessee Baptist Children's Home, or Compassion International, or the Cooperative Program of the SBC. Do something to spend your money on someone else's life, not over my dead body.

If you want to build something, don't erect some memorial on the side of the road. Go fix a roof that is leaking on an elderly widow's house. Go see to it that more clean water wells get placed in Sudan. Whatever you do, don't put a plaque on it with my name. Do it in Jesus' name.

My theology tells me that at my earthly death my soul and spirit are in the presence of the Holy One. I am not one bit concerned if flowers are decomposing over my corpse because I am going to get a new body--and it is going to look GOOD (work with me here.) My point is I don't want my loved ones wrapped up in my death, I want them to be wrapped up in life, their lives in Christ! After all, the things that make me "me," will not be dead. If we truly believe that and we live by faith then we should be rejoicing and not opining. Yes, we miss our loved ones. Yes, the loss can be difficult. But the victory over death that we experience only through Jesus Christ should far out-weigh our sadness.

Spring is almost here! Let's celebrate life!