Funerals are frequently steeped in religious expression, since one of religion’s main functions is to help people cope with the idea of death. Those of us who do not believe in a deity or afterlife lack the comfort of being able to say that we will see our loved ones again. But we can still find other, more reason-based comforts and meaningful things to say in times of loss. One of our local members, Jim Spence, who is an ordained secular officiant in West Virginia and a self-proclaimed atheist, is available to perform secular funerals and has written a short essay containing some thoughts he might use as the basis for a non-religious eulogy. It is also just an encouraging and thoughtful essay to read.
by Jim Spence
Before you took your first breath, there was nothing. There was no laughter, no tears, no sunsets, no rain and no dreams. And then suddenly you were born. You came into this world naked and crying, and the spark that is you came alive.
The first few years of your life were spent absorbing everything around you, learning that your own spark did in fact exist. As you grew older you came to realize what life was, and you started to have dreams. You dreamt of the future, of things that you hoped would come to pass: a trip to the zoo, a new bike, a kiss. One of the most unfortunate things in life is that, while we all have different dreams, some people dream of things that others take for granted: food, shelter, clothing. Their spark, though just as bright as yours and mine, started them on a different pathway.
But we all dream as we grow, and we will continue to dream until we’re gone.
It isn’t until you are somewhere in the middle of this thing we call life that you start having memories of your yesterdays. Your memories are the pathway you’ve taken on the way to your dreams. And the older you get, the longer your pathway of memories becomes.
After a long life, a lot of distinct memories become faded around the edges. You may have trouble remembering what your first bicycle looked like, or even your first teacher. However, some memories don’t fade; instead they sharpen as they fall further behind you on your pathway: your first pet, your first date…or the last kiss you gave to someone you love.
While your dreams lead you to your future, it is the pathways of your memories that guide you, that make you who you truly are in life.
It is your memories that remind you that you are alive, even if only for a brief few decades on this earth. And it’s the memories of those who come after you that will keep you alive, even after you’re gone.
After you have taken your last breath, there is the same nothing as before you were born. Your spark has gone out. But has it really? After all, your spark was a gift to your from your parents, who got that same spark from their parents, and their parents before them. I have passed my spark on to my daughter, and she has kept that same spark alive in her son, my grandson. When my spark has gone it will live on in him, and in his children.
This is true even if you are the ‘end of the line’. Even if you have no children, and no one after you, you have passed on your spark. Every time you smile at a child, every time you extend a helping hand, every time you sing the praises of another, your spark has been passed on. It lives in the memories of those people, in the love you have given them.
Our spark lived before we were born, and it lives on after we die.
My grandparents were gone many, many years before my own grandson was born. But I do my best to tell him about them, to pass on those memories that are most clear to me…my first banana split my Grandfather bought me, when I was but four years old; my small hand wrapped around the little finger of my Pappaw; the way my Grandmother cut my toast every Saturday morning, the pancakes made by my Mammaw. These are their memories as much as my own, and they will live on in my grandson.
And some day, many years from now, he will tell his grandchildren about his PawPaw. He will tell them his memories of those moments that are etched forever in his pathway. And my spark will go on, long after I’m ashes in the wind.
There was nothing before you were born, and there is nothing after you die. Yet you will live forever, in the memories of those you love, and of those whom you touched in your own pathway between dream and memory.
So remember those who came before you and keep them alive. Do not forget that you were once their dream. You were given one spark; make it burn as brightly as possible while you’re here, and the shadows you cast will live for an eternity.
To speak with Jim about his services as a secular officiant in West Virginia, you can use the contact form on this page.