Telling a Dead Man’s Story

May 21, 2012

Hola, everyone.

Today, you might see a lot of bloggers in your reader answering the same question.  I’m really glad to be participating with writers like Lindsey Nobles, Nicole Cottrell, Ben Arment and my friends at Prodigal Magazine, talking about what it means to “live a good story.”

I’ll admit, that topic sounds a little fuzzy to me.  But with thousands of people flocking to conferences like Story in Chicago and Storyline, put on by Don Miller, it seems like everyone wants their lives to be a story worth telling (not to mention worth living.)

If you asked me what people today spend more time doing than anything else, I wouldn’t even have to think about it.

We spend days on end updating our statuses.  We go to great lengths to dress ourselves to make a statement.  We try to talk to the right people, say the right things.

We’re just keeping up appearances.

That’s what we call life.  Trying to survive and look great while doing it.  And end the end, we fail at both.

I Never Met the Dead Man

A couple of years ago, I found myself in a room full of complete strangers.

They were in mourning.  I was not.  In fact, I had not shed one tear for the man in the casket.

The room was full of his friends.  His widow was sitting off to the side.  But he was a complete stranger to me.  I had never met him before in my life.  I would not know him from Adam.  But I was standing at the front of the room at the podium.  Most people would rather be in the dead man’s place than at the speaker’s podium.

But had spent the last two days trying to figure out just how I was going to give a eulogy for a complete stranger.

I Never Met the Dead Man

See, just a few weeks before, I was in a hospital lobby, waiting to visit a sick member of our church.  Sitting across from me was a woman who could be my grandmother.  She practically couldn’t help talking to me, even though I don’t usually talk to strangers.  She had spend weeks in the chair she was now sitting in.  Her husband was dying a few rooms away.

I prayed with Bonnie, made my appointed visit and left.  A week later, I returned to the hospital in the pouring rain. I wondered if Bonnie would still be in her chair.

She was right where I left her.  We spoke again, and she asked if her husband died, would I do his funeral.

I had never given a eulogy, much less for a man in an induced coma whom I had never met.  But maybe he would pull through, and I’d be off the hook.

Telling a Dead Man’s Story

Four days later, I was definitely on the hook. John had passed away.

Contrary to what I was taught in seminary, a eulogy is not an opportunity for a three point gospel presentation.  It’s an opportunity to tell a story.

So I sat on Bonnie’s couch while she and her sister shared with me John’s story.

I was nervous that the man may not have had a story.  Maybe he wasted his life in front of the television. I was actually relieved to find out that he had been an alcoholic…and even more relieved that he had been sober for twenty years, upon an ultimatum from his wife. Like I said, she had the appearance of a woman who could put up a fight and get her way.

John was not a church-going man. Alcoholics Anonymous had been his church, his confessional and his community.  I asked to see John’s “Big Book,” the Bible of AA.

And there was John’s story.  The worn out book, as I had hoped, was littered with underlining, circling and highlighting.  It was a book belonging to a man who had demons to fight.

At the funeral home, I didn’t say anything those people didn’t already know.  The room was full of John’s AA fellows.  I dressed up John’s story with a little drama, a couple of jokes, and some Bible verses.  I read some highlighted passages from John’s own Big Book, and hoped I got it right.  I had my own appearances to keep up: the appearance of a “professional” pastor.

No More Keeping Up Appearances

Back to keeping up appearances.

We spend our whole lives doing it.  Trying to survive and look good while doing it.

And then we all end up the same way.  We die, and the last time people see us, we’re a corpse in a box.

Can’t really keep up appearances like that, can you?

And not only that, but in the end, none of us really have a copyright on our own life stories.  We aren’t in control of how our stories will be told.  People will talk about us how they want.  They probably won’t talk about our goals and life plans we labor over.

Your stories will be told by the people you cared for…and maybe a twenty-five year old you never met.  So stop trying to keep up appearances, and just give those people some good material to work with when you’re gone.

Tell us what you hope people will say about your life, and then be sure to visit Prodigal Magazine to check out what the other bloggers are saying.

9 responses to Telling a Dead Man’s Story

  1. dawn ellen miller May 21, 2012 at 6:48 am

    wow, I usually semi-joke about what to do with my body after I am gone. I haven’t thought too much about what they would say about me. Hopefully that I’ve made people smile a bit more.

    When we pass away, what will we leave behind as a legacy on Facebook, Twitter, G+ and such.

  2. Wonderful job, Matt. I love how people get close to God in the end, or at least people think more deeply about it.

    My kids just had me speak at my ex-wife’s funeral. That is one place I never ever thought I would be. One lady after said, “you I don’t like, but that was the high road.” And other said that “it was a class act.” (Well at east the appearance of for the sake of the kids.) What no one talked about was her tortured life with alcoholism. And I guess, in the end, no one wants to remember that.

    I don’t care too much for appearances either on Facebook or in person. I don’t expect that a lot of folks will be at my funeral because they thought I was awesome. They’ll be there for my kids and my wife if she is around.

    For the ones that truly care about me, I hope they’ll say that I was loyal, dedicated, loving, and sober.

  3. I saw where you linked this on Twitter a few days ago. It’s really great because you’re telling a story. I was a pallbear once for an elderly man because his friends were also elderly. I hope I have a crowd, but I hope they all say that I loved everyone and tried really hard to connect with the ones it didn’t come naturally with.

  4. First of all, I will NOT be a corpse in a box. No one will see anything but pictures of me living life. My empty shell will be turned into ashes that will hopefully provide some nutrients somewhere a whole lot faster than they would in a coffin. If God can create everything out of nothing, He can resurrect my body out of ashes or create a new one for me in heaven. :-D.

    What I hope people will say of me is that I made them laugh or smile, that I loved God and demonstrated Him through my live and that I loved the people He brought into my life.

  5. My story is so boring, but it’s mine. I’m a good and faithful wife, I’m a good and long suffering mother (just kidding, I’ve only suffered for 25 years), and I’m as happy as can be because I’m in glory with the king of everything. :)

  6. My pastor likes to say that he, “is a dying man, preaching to dying people.”

    No…none of us are up to it. But we have a Savior who did more than a great job on our behalf.