I recently have attended several funerals of colleagues at various houses of worship. During most of the funerals, there was a small time allotted for people to speak about the deceased; I found these moments to be the most moving. I’ve been reflecting on the memorial services I’ve attended while being a member here at the Ethical Culture Society.
Our website says that “Ethical Culture funerals and memorials are dedicated to honoring the unique personality, values and contributions of the person who has recently died.” In my experience, I agree with that statement wholeheartedly. I have mostly gone to memorials where Joe Chuman, our leader, presided and spoke first about the person. Starting with the person’s general story and contributions, he always ended by speaking about his relationship or memories with the person. He then would invite members of the family or friends to eulogize followed by an open invitation for people attending to speak about their relationships and remembrances. I had come away comforted, and feeling closer to the person who died. I grew up in a Protestant church that had a set liturgy for funerals. The repetition of those words and the general order of service did not comfort me as hearing the stories of people’s lives did.
I feel that Ethical Culture memorials are life-affirming. I am supported, and can support others, by sharing the memories of friends and family. The memories bring people back and I feel connected and engaged in life. That connection provides a relief I feel in being part of a larger community. I am glad that I have experienced Ethical Culture memorials and look for the solace of the stories when I attend other funerals.
Susan Lesh is president of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County