I went to a funeral earlier today. I usually go to funerals of church members because I'm on the Hospitality Committee which handles most of our funeral receptions. I hope I would make the effort to attend even if I weren't required to be there.
When I started attending funerals at this church, I was shocked at how few people turned up. When I was a kid In my neighborhood in West Virginia, it seemed as though everyone showed up not only for the funeral service, but also the viewing. Even if the deceased had been a passing acquaintance.
The exception was the Catholic funerals I attended during my parochial years. When an elderly member of the parish died, and it appeared as though the funeral would be sparsely attended, we were taken out of our classes and made to fill the pews. I didn't mind this, although it struck me as very sad.
A close friend of mine lost her grandmother to suicide. Because she was a suicide, she was denied a funeral mass and her husband was so ashamed he didn't tell his wife's family that she was dead. Her funeral was held in a big church, with only her husband, daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren present. Six people.
I suppose, to me, it feels as though the life of the deceased is somehow validated by the number of people who turn up to bear witness to the fact that someone lived, and is now no longer with us. I know it's just a gesture---the deceased person doesn't know how big an event it was, and in the big picture, the funeral is nowhere near as important as the life lived. But, it's important enough.
The woman whose funeral I attended became a sort of role model to me, in different ways and for different reasons. I have always thought of her as being the kind of Presbyterian I want to be: not so hung up on the theology, but very attached to the denomination and to the institution and to our particular church. I like that. And I'll miss her.