Jon Canter‘s sister Rosemary died of cancer in March. In the last couple months of her life, she told Jon what she wanted her funeral to be like — neither she not Jon believe in a god, so it wasn’t the kind of funeral you’re used to seeing. But I think their decisions would make most atheists proud:
In many ways, the planning of a godless funeral was a liberation. For our mother’s cremation we had, via that secular miracle the internet, procured the services of a rabbi. (Oh yes, my sister’s non-religion was, in fact, “Jewish atheist”.) He recited the prayers with commendable gusto. But he was much like the vicar so familiar from Church of England funerals –- he didn’t know the deceased; he couldn’t eulogise her, except to say he’d heard nice things about her from her family. How many times have you shifted in your pew with embarrassment, as a vicar tries to celebrate a member of his flock who, it’s soon apparent, is a bit of a mystery sheep? I knew my elder sister for all but the first four years of her life. In celebrating her, I had infinitely more knowledge and authority than a religious intermediary only doing his or her job.
So. I would talk about her, as would two old friends she nominated.
… I announced there would be a silence, at the end of which everyone should applaud, long and loudly, to give thanks for Rosemary’s life. It worked wonderfully, though I say it myself…
There was some religious music in there, and recitation of a sonnet invoking God’s name, because it meant a lot to Rosemary. She grew up with God, even if she didn’t believe in one.
But they didn’t sit there and talk about where she was going after death because they knew better than that. They didn’t pray because it wasn’t going to make a difference. They celebrated a life that was influential to so many of the people in the crowd — what more could you ask for at an atheist’s funeral?