By Dianne Witte
Recently the value of preparation and planning has been impressed on me. After 52 years of marriage, my husband died unexpectedly. Well, he did have kidney disease, and diabetes, which he was managing. But 74 is relatively young, so it was unexpected when he died from heart failure.
At any rate, I’ve learned that even though we did some planning for the future, we failed to plan for our death. We had healthcare advance directives, power of attorney, and financial planning in place. We touched on how and where we wanted to be buried, but no other details were decided. We had no “family” funeral home or other logistics of funeral planning in place. As a result of not planning for these things, I’ve encountered some surprises and related regret and disappointment.
Let me explain. We had a “mixed” marriage when it came to religion and spirituality. He was consistently of the Lutheran persuasion and I moved from Catholic to Lutheran to Unity and finally to spirituality without religion. As a result, I wasn’t aware of the “kind” of Lutheran church my husband was participating with. I have since discovered it was not the one I had shared with him along the way.
Turns out he was attending a church of the more conservative wing of the Lutheran religion. This church is affiliated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) and professes “at the time of physical death a believer’s soul goes to heaven and an unbeliever’s soul goes to hell.” They also oppose woman suffrage in the church as contrary to Scripture. I’m sure my husband didn’t share those beliefs. The synod of his childhood and the one we shared as our family grew, was Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and recently had a female minister. He started attending the WELS church when we first moved to the area, because it was nearby, not because it was a particular “brand” of Lutheran. I don’t think he realized the change. That was unexpected and, in retrospect, very clear to me after the funeral.
So my sons and I made funeral plans with my husband’s current church, since we assumed it would be his wish. Again, we hadn’t planned this in advance. We visited with the minister, as he tried to know us better, so he could give an appropriate eulogy. I appreciated that, but the end result was disappointing, colored by his religious beliefs and skewed as to facts of our lives.
The service handout set the tone, with the heading “Christian Funeral Service” and the “Christian” aspect was emphasized throughout. The service insinuated that only Christians would be qualified to have eternal life. With his “holier than thou” attitude the minister was proselytizing, rather than comforting.
It reminded me of what I learned as a child in the Catholic Church. You have to be Catholic to be saved, according to them. Over the years, I’ve come to a new understanding. After losing many friends and relatives who weren’t Christian or Catholic, it occurred to me that since I, a human being, would want them all to be rewarded with “heaven,” God is at the very least 1000X more loving than me. It only follows that God would not require that a person be Catholic or Christian to be loved. That is church doctrine, not common sense.
There was yet another unexpected incident. I had requested that participants be allowed to speak words of remembrance during the service, but the minister was resistant, and had to be reminded when the time came. Now I know why. That was rather disconcerting and disrespectful on his part, in my estimation.
I do respect others’ beliefs, but I also expect them to respect the beliefs of those present to honor a life. I have learned a funeral is not so much for the deceased, as for the survivors. Knowing my husband, I’m sure he would not have appreciated what transpired. But, again, it was because we hadn’t planned ahead.
Rather than remain a victim of circumstance, I did write a letter to the minister, outlining how he might do better in the future. In my letter, I said: “While I respect your beliefs, you may not realize it but 2/3 of the world population believes in reincarnation, as does Jesus. Only Christians have been misled by church doctrine to believe we only have one life.”
I reminded him that most of the world shares my belief that the Jesus of John 3:16 is a teacher, whose message is, all are loved by God, not just the Pharisees and Sadducees, who incidentally also believed you could only be saved by following certain doctrines. I wrote, “Don’t be misled to think only Christians are saved. Jesus would be the first to say, God loves everyone.” I asked him to please consider being more respectful of non-Christians in the future.
So, I thank you for sharing my experience. The purpose was to encourage you to prepare for the inevitable, so as to avoid a similar fate. This was only one portion of the entire experience, not the least of which was the shocking expense of the funeral. We were conservative, but it still cost over $8,000. As part of that, I was also shocked to discover an obituary in one local newspaper was over $600 for just one printing. Well, live and learn. And remember the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared.”