The Joy of Preaching My Father’s Funeral
by Pastor Doug Foutty
Doug Foutty and his wife, Laura, founded Faith Fellowship Church in Parkersburg, West Virginia in January of 2003. They are the parents of three children.
This may seem like a strange title to the ministers who have not been in this situation before. In November of 2006 my dad became increasingly sick. He had seen enough doctors to know that something serious was wrong. It turned out to be a cancerous brain tumor the size of a grapefruit pressing on his brain. He had it removed but he was still given a limited amount of time to live. He began to get his affairs in order. That is when one of many, many things hit me. Did I want to preach his funeral? Could I preach his funeral, even if I wanted to do it? I knew one thing; I would be a pall bearer. I would carry his body on its last march.
Things got much worse over the next few months with dad’s health. We were in a two week frame of mind in April. Dad was 78 and a he was Christian. In those last 2 weeks of his life I really decided that I WANTED to speak at his funeral. I would subtly mention it to different family members. I was speaking it in faith because my mind was screaming—NO!
My parents didn’t attend my church. They attended the church close to their home. It is the church that I was brought up in and has been their home church since 1970. So, I also knew that his pastor would be speaking since the funeral would be held in his church. I hoped that dad’s pastor would understand what I wanted to do. I can’t say that he was thrilled with my decision. I was going to be polite and respectful to him, but also do my best to get him to understand my reasons for wanting to do this. It is a denominational church that this man pastored and they weren’t much for allowing anyone behind their pulpit that hadn’t been approved.
Dad went to be with Jesus in mid April 2007. The day for the funeral finally came. Even that day, moments before the service was to start, the other pastor asked if I still planned on saying a few words. I only include this part of the story because this is to help ministers. You don’t always know what you might encounter. You might not expect another minister to be uncomfortable with you in their church. I really like this man and he really liked my dad. It was just uncomfortable for him trying to keep the rules that he felt his denomination would want kept and not offending the son of the man that just passed away.
I was very pleased with how dad’s pastor started the service and with the humorous story that he recounted. He honored my father and he celebrated his life. There it is. Did you catch it? That was my whole endeavor. I wanted to celebrate dad’s life. I did not want a sad and dreary funeral. The place was packed and there was an overflow room. Dad would not have wanted all of these friends and family members of his gathered together to be put through a gut-wrenching message of grief and sorrow.
So this is what I did. I told funny stories. I told touching stories that showed the Jesus in him. I also told a story that I made up on the spot about what I suspected he was up to right now in heaven. As a minister, as his son, as a boy who had just lost his father, these were the kinds of stories I could tell and not break down. These were the kinds of stories I could tell and know that my mom would laugh and get some relief from the grief. These were the kinds of stories that I could tell and look back the rest of my life and say—“Doug, you celebrated your dad’s life.” These were the kinds of stories that brought me JOY to tell them. Dad would have liked it.
I told of the familiar story about not giving your father credit for what he knew until your experience caught up and you found out that he really did know a lot. It went something like this. It was Christmas 1970 and I got my first REAL bicycle. I was 8 years old. That was back in the days when bikes needed assembled after you bought them. I was excited and dad seemed concerned. He got all of the tools out and carefully laid out the parts of the bicycle. During this ‘too long’ of an ordeal for an 8 year old, I heard the only curse word that he would ever utter in my presence in the 44 years that we had together on this Earth. He said it twice, the same phrase. I told the people at my dad’s funeral that I wasn’t sure if he said it twice because he wanted to make sure my bike heard him or because he wanted my bike to know he was serious. I don’t even know how my dad knew my bike was a boy, but it must have been. He called it a SON of something twice. I was embarrassed and disappointed at the same time. It was the Christmas season and dad was cussing my new bike. I didn’t think it was fair. That day came and went. I had that bike for several years. I had many wrecks on that bike. That bike threw me and slid out from under me and mistreated me on a regular basis. It wasn’t a very nice bike. One particular time that the handle bars came loose and I was picking myself up and was bruised and bleeding after a bad wreck I looked at the bike and said—DAD WAS RIGHT ABOUT YOU!
I told several stories that made the people laugh and made me laugh as I told them. The one that I made up as I went was about what I thought dad was doing in heaven right that minute. Dad was the type of man that knew everyone and knew all of their relatives. He prided himself in being able to talk about someone’s relatives with them. He helped people with their family trees and was just a wealth of knowledge when it came to things like that. Also, everyone was well aware of this talent. He had even told me of people that were too closely related to be married and wouldn’t be if they knew what he did. So, the story I made up went something like this. I told them, I can just see dad right now. He’s talking to Eve. You know, as in Adam and Eve. He’s asking her where she’s from and who her mother and father were. I’m sure that Eve is trying to explain her situation to dad without offending him. She is saying—I WAS A RIB! Of course dad is saying, I knew some Ribs once. They lived in Ritchie County. I went to school with the oldest girl. Then Eve says. I wasn’t a Rib on my momma’s side of the family and I wasn’t a Rib on my daddy’s side. I WAS A RIB ON MY HUSBAND”S SIDE!!!
And with that, I sat down.
I had celebrated my father’s life. I had experienced JOY in preaching my father’s funeral. I recommend that if a minister faces this opportunity, take it. Think of the best way to celebrate your parent’s life and tell everyone about them. The laughter and smiles from the crowd will bless you and a merry heart truly works like a medicine in a time like that.
I hope this will help you choose to celebrate your parent’s life. No one can do it like their own child.