Naming the shadows: Truth-telling at funerals

I've seen it often: a beloved church member dies and at the funeral the eulogies go on and on, with the bereaved ones helping to anoint the saint. But then the eulogizers go home, and the bereaved are left behind to find a foothold for grieving this acclaimed someone—and to deal with the reality that the life of the one who died contained shadows as well as sunshine.

We often avoid naming people's shadows, not only in funerals but also in church. We flinch from our sins, our frailties and our messes. We choose the fantasy of eternal sunshine over the richness of naming the truth, in all its fierce and sometimes frightening wildness.

After my mother died, I spoke of her wild spirit as I thanked those who had loved her through difficult final weeks. At times the ferocity that had made her grand also made her a challenge to those who knew her. One courageous respondent spoke up, using humor that wrapped my mother in tenderness, and described her encounters with my mother's shadows. Some of those listening seemed bewildered; they hadn't associated Betty D. King, aka "The Queen," with a shadow side.