I Learned How To Live At a Funeral

By Greg Quinn

July 18th, 2018

I attended a funeral recently that made me think.  Funerals have a way of doing this.  Making us face the realities of death and look beyond the sorrow of losing someone close in order to gaze deeply into our own futures.  And, to grasp the concept afresh again that “life is but a vapor” as the evidence of the brevity of life is staring us in the face from the casket.

I’ve been to many funerals.  As a Minister, I have conducted many funerals.  All of them are difficult.  All of them give me pause to reflect not only the past of the one whose life we are celebrating, not only the present grief we are dealing with or helping loved ones of the deceased deal with, and not only the futures beyond the grave of the dearly departed, but the futures of ourselves, and the questions that come from an uncertain future.

On June 16th I turned 61 years of age.  I am “over 60” and therefore officially a “geezer”.  When I was young, anyone over 60 was ancient.  Now that I am “over 60”, I tend to look at things differently.  I don’t feel old.  I don’t even think I look old.  In fact, I am in better shape (as far as I know) than I was at 40.  But the reality of the calendar does have us tend to look at life differently as we get older.

Sixty-One is also a significant age. 

I served as Minister of Music and Youth for a dear friend of mine for over four years.  Reverend Odell Snow was one of the finest men I have witnessed God placing on earth.  He was a great Pastor, a great man, and a great friend.  He was really a genius.  He could fix anything; he built an elevator for the handicapped of our Alabama church by looking at a repair manual.  He built stained glass windows for many churches; I have a set of stained glass doors that he built for my house and they are exquisite.  He once preached a sermon by reciting verbatim the entire book of Hebrews from memory; King James Version.  I never met anyone quite like him.  This year will be 11 years since he died.  He died at 61.

One of my best friends died about 5 years ago.  Carl Kulungian was a very dear friend.  We had so many good times together over the years.  Carl was a true friend and brother.  Carl showed me how the rich truly have advantages, took me to Vegas my first time, had me experience the affluent southern California lifestyle, provided me my first Cuban cigar, and together we dined in some of the finest restaurants in America.  I also showed him a few things.  I took Carl to our Quinn Family Reunion.  He witnessed his first hog cooked in a pit.  He enjoyed the simplicity of a very rural southern lifestyle.  He saw the benefits of a close family.  He got his first pair of overalls, ate his first country ham, and learned how to enjoy biscuits, hot chocolate podue, and red eye gravy.  Each of us were blessed by the difference of our experiences and how we shared these among ourselves.  My friend Carl died suddenly one morning of a heart attack.  He was 61 years old.

On April 3rd, 2018, I participated in the funeral of my best friend, Rev. Tony Tennison.  Tony and I met back in 1982 when I lived in Mississippi.  I was Youth Pastor at a small Mississippi rural church, joined the Pruitt family (a Southern Gospel group) as drummer, and at our first practice I met the new guitar player, a man my age named Tony Tennison.  This began a lifelong friendship.  We played together, ate together, spent a lot of time with our families together, went to church together, participated in concerts with the Pruitts together across the southern US, worked together, laughed and cried together.  Tony was a friend that most spend their lifetimes never finding; we were that to each other.  Tony worked with me in corporate America, and left this business world for the full time call to the ministry as a Pastor more than 20 years ago.  There was a bit over three months difference in our age.  On Tony’s birthday, March 1st 2018, I called to tell my “geezer friend” happy birthday.  Thirty days later I would get a call that my dear friend Tony had left earth for Glory.  He died at age 61. 

I recently turned 61 and of course pondered on these things.  And over the past couple weeks I have given a great deal of thought as to my calendar age, but not just my years, but how I have spent these years.

I have reflected upon many funerals recently, not only the most recent one of Tony, but many others that I have either witnessed or officiated. 

So, what are the lessons learned from funerals?  What can funerals teach us about life?

One, you tend to witness at a funeral the impact that the deceased had on others around him or her.  Sometimes this is expected; sometimes it is a surprise.  I was not surprised to find the line of people wishing to pay their last respects to Rev. Odell Snow fill the sanctuary and wrap around the church and stay that way for over eight hours.  Brother Snow’s life was a life of impacting in a positive manner the lives of others, and this impact was evident at his funeral.  I was not surprised to find that the large church sanctuary was full at the funeral of Rev. Tony Tennison.  People were everywhere to pay their respects.  People traveled from around the country to pay homage to one who had made a difference in their lives.  I wasn’t surprised to find the little Carlisle Missionary Baptist Church completely full with people standing outside on the day of the funeral of my dad, Rev. JP Quinn.  Dad was in the pastoral ministry for over 45 years and made impacts on people all over middle Tennessee.  I was surprised, however, at other funerals I attended or even participated in.  I thought I knew someone but then at the funeral I discovered much more, much more about their involvement with other people, much more about their contribution to society, and so on.  If we live a life with others in mind, we will leave a legacy that will extend beyond our lifetime.

Also, at funerals, you tend to gauge the priority of ones’ life.  Vicki Quinn was an Intensive Care and Cardiac Care RN for many years.  She witnessed people in life-and-death situations and cared for them.  She repeated what I have heard many times; no one in their last days on earth talk about how they wish they had spent more time at the office, or made more money, or conducted more meetings, or worked more hours.  They talk about how they wish they had spent more time with family, had developed more close relationships, had made more of a difference in the world around them.  Priorities matter.  This is evidenced again at the impact that the dearly departed made on the world around them by the people that are at the funeral and the comments made about the deceased at the funeral.  When we are dying, we don’t care about things or money or properties or work or meetings; we care about relationships.  Relationships with the Father God and His Son Jesus Christ, and relationships made or not made while living here on earth with other people.

Also, at funerals, if you pay attention, you will consider your own mortality and your own timeframe on earth.  Perhaps you will realize that time is short and eternity is long, and that the quality of our life on earth is established by our relationships with others, and the quality of our life in eternity is established by our relationship with God. 

Decisions as to how one lived his or her life is often evidenced at their funerals.  If the deceased’s life impacted many people in a positive way, it is most often noticeable.

One day you and I will die.  We will all meet our maker.  We will all stand before God.

Hebrews 9:27 King James Version (KJV)
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

Where you spend eternity, in Heaven with God and those loved ones who accepted Christ and have gone before us, or in Hell, a place of eternal torment for those who denied Jesus as Lord.  We make the choice while living on earth; we reach the destination based upon our choice.

We choose the impact upon the lives of others by how we live our lives each day.

We make our choices as to what are our priorities as to how we live our lives each day.

The quality of our lives here, and the destination of our lives in the future, are determined by how we live our lives each day.

So, we should consider our own mortality, not as something to be feared or dreaded, but as a challenge to do more with our lives.  Considering our own mortality is not to fear death, but to make decisions now whereas death is nothing to fear.  I’ve heard it said that fearing death for the Christian is not so much about the unknown aspect of eternity as it is about making a difference while here on earth, that our lives mean something, that we leave behind something of significance.  Fearing death for the non-Christian is a reality that can be removed with one simple decision; the decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, to realize that He is the Son of God, and that He died for your sins.  With this decision and declaration, the acceptance of this free gift, then the fear of death is removed.  Then, as previously mentioned, perhaps the only fear is as one has suggested, that of making a difference in the world left behind, and that this fear motivates all of us to do more with our lives while living here on earth.

So how can we use what we learned at funerals? How can funerals help us to live our lives better today?

    1. If you are not a Christian, accept the free gift of grace of God, through Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for your sins, become a Christian, and live for Christ. 
    2. Live your life so that you make a positive impact on the lives of others. 
    3. Make your life's priority reflect the words of Jesus; love God and love others.

John 13:34 King James Version (KJV)
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

    4. Spend more time developing relationships, and less time working and chasing things that are not as important in the long run. 
    5. Consider that your days are numbered and try to live each day as if it were your last. If today you were on your deathbed, what would be your priorities? 
    6. Live your life so that it can be said of you, "He/She loved God, and loved people".

.      Evaluate your time.  Measure your days.  Make the most of the time you have.

We all have but one life to live.  We don’t know how long it will last on earth.  We do know that we will live for eternity somewhere.  Let’s make our lives here on earth as valuable as possible, live to leave a positive mark, and establish a fantastic pathway to an eternity with God.

God Bless.

Greg Quinn