I do a lot of funerals. Occasionally I’ll find myself in a position where I’m doing a funeral for a person I don’t know or barely know. Often these are people who have been in nursing homes for years and family members and friends don’t have a lot of information to offer.
You want to honor the person’s life and bring some much needed perspective for those in attendance. I’ve found a very good resource in this website: The History Timeline of the Twentieth Century.
At a recent funeral for a 90 year old lady I had never met, I started my message like this:
Betty was born the year the Winter Olympics were first held. She was one year old when Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” was first published, but when she was 2 Winnie-the-Pooh was first published. At age three Babe Ruth hit his home run record and when she was four bubble gum was invented, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon premiered and penicillin was discovered. That sounds like a very good year for four year olds.
I continued on to age 10, then 15 and 16 (hallmark years for most of us) then hit the highlights of 20, 30, 40 and on out. I try to put a mix of the history that defined the decades with the fun things that defined the generations.
After bringing her up to our times I continued the message with this:
Many of the things that people of my generation have always taken for granted, that we believe have always been there, Betty lived without and experienced first-hand. A life like that gives one remarkable perspective–a perspective that cannot be matched.
But what is ninety years in God’s perspective? Peter tells us, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” Time impresses us. Ninety years is amazing to us, but to God it is a mere drop in the bucket.
From there I spend some time talking about what we gain from God’s perspective–and his patience. The hope we can have because he doesn’t count time like us.
It’s a quick and easy way to put a funeral message together for someone who you otherwise don’t know. In fact, many of those in attendance may not really know the person–they’re there to honor an ancient relative. But using the timeline gives them a point of connection. Suddenly they’re the same age and discovering history with them.
The response to these messages is amazing. I’ve actually had people request I do this for their relatives when they pass too.
I have to admit, though, as I’ve gotten older the timeline is less impressive to me. I miss the days when I could mention, “He was eight years old the last time the Cubs won the World Series!”