The funeral of an unrepentant curmudgeon


Think of the most ornery cuss of a person you know. This is a person no one likes because he is mean to everyone. There isn’t a nice streak in him, or if there is, he never shows it. He is anti-social. He picks an argument with everyone. He’s an older person, in the last stage of his life. He’s fallen ill, and that has only made him madder. If you are nice to him, he will be even meaner back. This guy has accomplished nothing with his life except to make enemies. He’s simply waiting to die, and to him, and anyone who knows him, his death won’t come a moment too soon.

There is no sympathy for him. Even people who seem to be able to find the silver lining in everything cannot find it for this guy. Nobody wants to admit it, but his passing will be worth celebrating, because no one will have to encounter this despicable person anymore.

To the surprise of no one, he is an atheist. If he believed there was a God, he would obviously be pissed off at Him, but he’s not going to bother with that. He just believes there is nothing. There is no one there. At the end of life, there is nothing worth anything. There was no plan, no design, nothing to make sense out of anything. In fact, it’s all a farce — one big bad joke on the human race. Life is a waste of time, and his life was not worth living. He actually thinks he is smarter than everyone else because he knows this, making a total mockery of anyone who has any hope.

Anyone who tries to talk him out of any of these negative beliefs of his gets shouted down. He is ruthless about this. If he gets any pleasure in life, it is the sick pleasure he gets from crushing anyone who believes.

Now imagine this: this ornery person passes away, and you are asked to conduct his funeral, or at least to say a few words in memory of him; what would you do? What would you say? With his family members all around you, what shred of hope could you give them? How could you keep this event from being either one big hopeless downer, or one magical trip to Fantasyland?

I’m asking you this because there is such a person; he is days away from death; I will probably be asked to officiate the event in some way; and I don’t have a clue about what I am going to do. So I am asking you, and I am serious. What would you do? Tell me, because I need to know.

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40 Responses to The funeral of an unrepentant curmudgeon

  1. Oh my…that is very hard. First of all, I’ll be praying for him and for you. For a moment of peace and maybe hope. When someone doesn’t believe in an afterlife, all they have is what you see. And when they are gone, they at least are released from the pain, anguish and anger that tied them up here on earth. I have to admit, this is where I think the Catholic church and it’s beliefs about praying for the person even after they have passed on is important. It might be the only comfort we have…God is in charge and, quite frankly, He will save who He wants to save! Just because we don’t hit all the marks of visible salvation here on earth doesn’t necessarily mean God doesn’t have mercy for a particular person… I don’t know if that helps or not, but I truly believe we will be shocked at some of the folks in heaven… if/when we get there ourselves!

  2. Holly Mooneyham says:

    I attended such a funeral one time. Although the deceased was not as “grumpy” as you describe, he was most definitely an atheist. The message that day was one of HOPE aimed at those in attendance. The gist of it was: “The casket is similar to a treasure chest. It contains the remains of a human being – one that is valuable to God. He does NOT desire for anyone to spend an eternity in Hell. HIS Desire (HIS HOPE) is for EVERYONE to come to know His Son, Jesus Christ, and to accept the offer of forgiveness. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know at the end of your life, when the pastor officiates YOUR service that everyone in attendance knows where you will spend eternity?”
    Maybe this is will be helpful for you.

  3. Prayers firstly for you both–then perhaps a few words on what may have happened to make him like he is–mercy Then maybe to say that his job may have been to remind us all what loosing hope could be like–none of us can change him at this late date however to show him love no matter what, maybe that’s our job representing Christ!

  4. iap2cdn says:

    Perhaps a starting point — maybe to background your own thinking — is that we have, until our last breath, the opportunity to say “yes” to Jesus. His parable of the vineyard workers — the ones who were hired at 9 am, noon and 5 pm and all received the same wages — indicates that for God, “showing up” is what’s important. And maybe, as your friend approaches that final moment, he, too, will answer the Vintner’s call. I had a friend who died a year ago after battling cancer for a couple of years, and when I asked if he’d mind if I prayed over him, he replied “I never felt the need to endorse a higher authority.” That doesn’t leave much of an opening for discussion, so all I could do was pray for him from afar, that God would reveal Himself to him and change his heart.

    For what it’s worth, the mother of another friend had spent her life as a “devout atheist”, but as she neared the end, she, too, received Christ (much to the disgust of her atheist friends).

    The great scientist, Fermi, is reputed to have said once, “Just because I don’t believe something doesn’t mean it’s not true.” The truth is, there is a Next Life, and your friend is about to discover that, big-time — regardless of what he “believes”.

    And here’s another thought: a significant barrier to pray against is the feeling your friend might have that he’s “too late” or “too far gone” or that he’s been “too angry for God to forgive him”. That’s the last resort of the Enemy and he needs to know it.

    • Lisa in Sunland says:

      All well said!

    • Therese says:

      Well said.
      John- God loves all his children, even those who do all they can to be unloveable, even those who spend a lifetime running away from Him. I believe that in the moment of a person’s last breath, time as we know it pauses. (Time was made for man and God is not bound by it.) I think Christ then comes to each person and offers His salvation, using any argument possible to convince him/her to accept the gift of everlasting life. His family can hope that the love Christ offers will break through and take him home.

    • Sandie says:

      I agree with you – no one knows exactly when life ends. I believe there remains an awareness past the time when we stop breathing and in that time is still the opportunity to receive Jesus. Because of that, I believe we will be very surprised at some of the people we meet in heaven. On another tangent, it could be possible that this man knew Christ at a young age – then life and choices turned toward bitterness. We only see the outside – Jesus knows the very marrow of our existence. And He promised that He would not lose any of those placed in His hand by the Father.

    • jwfisch says:

      Yes. Never too late.

  5. Mark says:

    God still loved this man! His love isn’t depended upon us-thankfully!

  6. KaT H. says:

    The person you just described was my father! He was very negative around his family….however, when we attended his graveside service, we were pleasantly surprised by how many of his colleagues attended! They loved “Mr. B”! He had an entirely different, pleasant personality with his staff! You just never know…just like w/ this fellow…you never know. He may have an entirely different “life” or “personality” than the one he is showing you 😉 I shall pray for you. Peace.

  7. Lisa in Sunland says:

    You, yourself, have often said that we never know what conversations someone might have with God in their last seconds, and will be surprised who we might see in heaven. We will pray that your curmudgeon will reach out to the God who is always reaching for him. And the curmudgeon is SO loved by God, as are we all. For you he can be, at least, a great illustration for a talk about that love. And though he feels hopeless, we just never know if he might cry out near the end for help with his hopelessness and unbelief. And before the funeral, if you can get to him – I know it’s against your introverted self, but still – tell him how loved he is and that Jesus died for him also. If he shouts, maybe you can shout love louder! Or send Marti. 🙂

    Blessings on ya and prayers for ya. Remaining in His mighty grip.

  8. Lance Scranton says:

    Judgment is the theme….you are rightly and accurately making a distinction about an unhappy unbeliever. Atheism requires faith…we all have faith in something…or nothing at all. But it is still the belief that nothing exists beyond this life. But you love him or you wouldn’t speak so just follow the old axiom: if you can’t say anything nice…don’t say anything at all (about him).

  9. CM says:

    This one has always been a challenge for me. Half of my family never discussed God or religion. And when my Grandmother, Grandfather, and Uncle all passed away we had the same routine – used paster “x” from a Christian funeral home. Most spoke in platitudes, knowing nothing of my family. One pastor probed the issue more in his sermon, about how do any of us truely know what happens when we die. I am glad that this is a part of my life that is behind me. I have sometimes felt that when Jesus said to have the dead “bury their own”, that there is a tough lesson in it for all of us. And I do believe we will be amazed regarding who is in heaven and who is not.

  10. crazycoach32 says:

    In Revelation it states that the gates to the heavenly city are never closed, so who knows maybe he will be there. God’s heart is relentless toward his children. He wants them with Him.

  11. Peter Leenheer says:

    First of all I will pray for you. And also pray that God will somehow reveal another side of this man that no one knew.

    My brother in law was not a curmudgeon but he did little except drink to anethesize his mental problems. He accomplished nothing worth lauding. At his funeral a number of his relatives got up but stumbled over their words to say something positive. I was wondering what would become of this service for him. Then someone got up who no one knew. This man related how on the day he died he accepted Christ as his savior. No one knew that. So he scabbed into heaven just like the criminal on the cross. In the end that is all that matters.

    There was another curmudgeon who had lost his wife in his old age and took it out on God and on the rest of the world. While he was alive his neighbors were a family with young children. He harassed the children because they would encroach on his property. One day it was very cold and the oldest child of about eight suggested to his Mom that Mr. Jones would probably like a nice warm bowl of soup. So the child delivered this bowl of soup and some garlic bread. More such forays occurred and Mr. Jones softened. Finally Mr. Jones died and the young boy went with his dad to the funeral. They were the only ones there. Mr. Jones was roman catholic. The priest told Dad and his son that because of the hot soup episodes Mr. Jones came back to church and died a believer. Only those who mattered were informed of that….Dad and his son.

    I hope someone has reached out to the curmudgeon, whose funeral you will preside over. Will anyone be there. Love at its hardest is when it gives love and expects nothing in return. How many of us are willing to love like Jesus did?

  12. cindy sawaya says:

    First and foremost he has not died yet, that means there is still the chance that he will turn to God. There is still hope. My God is bigger than his life is and was.
    Second I would talk with his family, there had to be some happy times some where in his life, something, somewhere made him the way he is. Dig deeper than the surface, hurt people hurt other people.
    Third I would speak on the gift we have been given, Each of us have been given that gift. It is our own choice whether to accept the gift or not.
    This reminds me of a story. Who’s fault is it? Should I blame the banker. One day a man won the best gift ever, he was allowed to go into the vault at Fort Knox and was allowed to take whatever he wanted. There was no limit except what he limited it to. Is it the banker’s fault if he walks out with nothing? we all have opportunities it is our choice on what we do with those opportunities. You can change the choice you have made at anytime.

    If I give you season tickets for life to the Angels games, tickets include away games, transportation, and expenses. You decide that this is a awesome gift and frame the information and hang it on the wall. The gift has no value, however if you go the games, make memories and use the gift, the gift then has value.

  13. Sandie says:

    John – this man still somehow reflects the image of God he was created in – ask the Spirit to lead you to that evidence. Be honest, with integrity. No matter how depressing it may seem…you have the responsibility to bring hope. When I first read your request, my mind immediately went to your music – for some reason I think your answer(s) lies there. Think about singing as part of your eulogy/elegy. And remember The Prodigal Son – how far away he still was from home…but because his dad was vigilant and had set a watch for that boy, he knew when he was heading home – and he met him when he was still far away and escorted his son on the remainder of his journey home. Jesus right now is watching keenly for this man, and may already be on his way to meet him to bring him home. My prayers are with you…it’s tough being a prophet and teacher.

  14. Martha Nelson says:

    Have you talked to him one more time? If you have and there is STILL no repentance, just ask the Lord. I would say, “This man was loved by his family” (because only his family could love him – them and His Creator! Say, “It is always a sad thing to loose a family member.” ” We are praying for comfort for the family.” And then ask for ANY stories about his childhood that you might be able to use to make it more personal. Then, for those who are left, A gentle reminder that life is short, eternity is long and a choice must be made. Not making a choice is still a choice. Lord, please be with John and give him a chance to reach out to this family and draw them to You! In the blessed name of Jesus, AMEN!

    Sent from my iPhone


  15. N & M says:

    When my husband ( a pastor) is in your situation, he asks the family to write out short stories or anecdotes about the person and then weaves it into his message. If there is no known salvation, he gently gives an opportunity for those there to hear the Good News (“I’m just one one old hungry beggar… 🙂 ) It isn’t easy, but at that point you are reaching out to the living.
    Some will resist Jesus until the grave – but until then never give up Hope (Hebrews 6:19). John Stott’s sister came to Christ a few weeks before her death after he had prayed for her for 50+ years. Last year I heard a wonderful story from Jill Briscoe about her mom coming to Christ hours before her death through the witness of her Irish nurse tending her at the end before Jill was able to arrive from the US.
    You’ll be in our prayers.

  16. peter k says:

    I have done services for people who you describe John
    I always maintain services are for the living.
    To that end there is the gospel of hope.
    As others have said we do not know the outcome of this persons end of life.
    We don’t know if he did a total turnaround
    before he passed…this is actually true for anyone. Offer comfort to the family through the gospel. Remember the guy on the cross beside Jesus ? Yup. Bring in a little humor to relieve the stress that might be in the room.
    Always works for me.
    Forgiveness…that’s always stressed.
    Each one of us needs it.

  17. Heather Himes says:

    You are in my heart and prayers, John. So hard to know what to say sometimes. But you are in God’s heart even more. As is the person who is dying. Perhaps what can be offered is the truth that God’s love and compassion goes far deeper than we can ever fathom. Even when we can’t find any good in a person, that doesn’t stop God from being with them. Perhaps a reminder that God’s love and presence are not dependent on anybody’s – on my – ability to desire or earn them, but on the reality that God will still love even as it hurts. Somehow, beyond what makes sense to our earthly minds, God offers this person His grace. It’s understandable if we can’t do it ourselves, but that doesn’t change the truth that God can. So as we live out our lives, perhaps we can allow ourselves to accept that we, too, ARE loved and DO matter. I think it’s in that acceptance or realization that we are enabled to let go of some of our own negative & “curmudgeon” ways.

    God be with you, John. May He speak through you – as He so often does – and speak to your heart as well.

  18. Peter Leenheer says:

    You ask for help for a curmudgeon who is not yet dead. You actually asked for help with officiating at the funeral.

    My mother in law was a curmudgeon. When she finally came to the hospital to die, she claimed she might as well be in hell. My son asked her about her faith and relationship with Jesus. She was a presbyterian her whole life but no one in her family ever talked about God and having a relationship with him. They went to church and were familiar with scripture and all it had to offer, but only on a one hour on sunday spiritual life. she reiterated this position to my son. We went home and prayed for her. We knew that God wants no one to perish but I believe that means we need to ask God to make that happen. It has to be our desire also. God moves when we pray His Will. We noticed that her eyes were like demon eyes. We did not want to confront a demon so we prayed that God’s will be done.

    When we came back a few days later, a nurse told us she had heard her recite the 23 Psalm. When we came for the visit, she started to tell us how much she loved us, and the rest of her family. In fact she did a complete 180 to the positive side and was very loving and kind. She volunteered that a few nights ago she had received a visit from God. That is all she said, obviously God had made an impression on her. A day or two later she died. Another one of my relatives scabbed into heaven. God is good.

    John, pray to God and follow your instincts, and visit this person. Ask them if they have a relationship with Jesus. The curmudgeon is not yet dead. There is opportunity. My prayer is Lord please, for Jesus sake, bring someone to the death bed side of this curmudgeon and let that influence save this person from themselves and have them heaven bound. God please do that, we know you want no one to perish. Forgive their sin and shower the curmudgeon with your grace. John if you sense you need to be that person do it. You might find there will be others ready to do that as well.

  19. Catherine says:

    I have been greatly encouraged reading everyone’s comments on what Pastor John should do in a very perplexing situation. There is not much I can add to such good suggestions except one that might help. If this old, bitter and unbelieving man, who isn’t dead unable to communicate (semi-comatose) to you or his family because of his failing health, he can still hear, because hearing is one of the last senses to go. So he should be having someone reading to him from the Bible, verses on our Hope in Christ, salvation and God’s promises to us. Reading God’s Word into his ear throughout the day and night; to fill his mind, thoughts and hopefully his heart by reaching him with the Good News of God’s love for him, just might be the hope he needs to hear before his final breath. As long as this man still has breath in him, there is hope of him responding to God’s gift of salvation. As a former oncology nurse, I whispered God’s message of salvation into the ears of many comatose, dying patients….with the hope that God could reach out to them even then…and they could be saved.

  20. Laquita Showen says:

    Admit you have no idea whyhechose to be like he was but you also don’t know exactly what was between him & God ( may think we do but really we do not). Do family members have any pleasant memories at all?
    Is a tough one. Good luck!

  21. Tim says:

    I would be honest about who he was and say at his meeting with God you hope he finds for the first time full acceptance and understands Gods love in a way he wasn’t able to while here.
    No one loves him more than God and maybe for the first time he’ll know this.
    It’s basically what I said at my dads funeral but I didn’t pretend he was someone he wasn’t.
    My dad struggled his whole life with not feeling good enough and I said he was right. Non of us are. May he have peace for the very first time.

  22. Death with dignity.
    John, to me it’s unclear whether you’ve had a chance to speak personally with this gentleman so it’s difficult to determine if the description of him above is your own assessment or the opinion of others.
    As insensitive or irreverent as they may appear, my thoughts (for what they’re worth) are these:
    If you do get a chance to speak with him, is he still lucid and in a cognitive frame of mind? If so, then ask him what HIS wishes are for any sort of remembrance (if at all).
    If not, just be there and exercise your great patience and grace that God gave you.
    As has been mentioned before, funerals are designed for the living so, either way, he probably won’t care what you say after he passes. But who knows, maybe he has pondered this very thing and it would give him some sort of satisfaction or ‘peace of mind’ to know that he somewhat controlled his own end – even after his end. Heck, he himself may desire to have someone throw that celebration you mentioned or an Irish wake or something different from the traditional somber proceedings. If he’s a true curmudgeon or misanthrope, he might even get a good last laugh at the idea of a “Ding-dong the old coot’s gone” party! It may sound crude but laced with enough sobriety, it could be a good-yet-honest departing memory – and dignified unifier of sorts – for both him and his few mourners.

    Condemned prisoners often get one last request before their execution.
    This man knows he’s on “death row” so maybe you could visit him and, addressing his future in those terms, ask what his last wish is (without sermonizing or preaching). As stubborn and curmudgeonly as he is, I think he would respect and reflect upon that with what little time he has left – especially if he’s involved with the planning. Plus, he won’t feel like something is being “shoved down his throat” (as has probably been the case in his past).
    Then, whatever his conclusive desire is – within the realm of propriety – you should respect and honor his last request(s) to the best of your ability.
    The bereaved, if they truly know him. should – with grace and dignity – understand.

    “People talk about the courage of condemned men walking to the place of execution:
    sometimes it needs as much courage to walk with any kind of bearing towards another person’s habitual misery.”
    – Graham Greene

    Courage, my friend…

  23. Lyn Carr says:

    Find out if there is anything at all that he took pleasure in maybe related to God’s creation. did he garden or anything, like to read? I always go back to hurt people hurt people. We are all broken in some way but we are all God’s children. Maybe his kids can remember even one memory that was pleasant. Maybe he taught his kids to love like Jesus does (without even knowing it) especially the unlovely. I’ve thought about this a lot as my mom can be bitter and angry at times. I’m choosing to remember some of the good, although it can be really difficult to come up with at times! Praying for his family and you!

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