A Service For Us. A Funeral Reimagined

For Erich Kotschi (1982-2004)

11 years ago today was Kotschi’s funeral. I was heartbroken and unbelievably angry. That service wasn’t what I wanted for him or for us. His parents fundamentalist faith wouldn’t allow him his dignity even in death. He deserved better.
I wrote this funeral service last semester. It is a reimagining of what his funeral could have been. What a service for us could have looked like.

Kotschi
The Service

The service is to be held in the same church as the funeral his parents organized. I imagine this service happening directly afterward. Those present would be friends and chosen family. His body is present in a casket at the front of the room. Behind the casket and to the left there is an altar table that holds several candles and anointing oil.

Greeting

Presider:

Today we gather to mourn the loss of Erich Kotschi. He was precious. Kind. And complicated. In the wake of loss like this there are many conflicting feelings. Anger, grief, sadness, fear, guilt, blame, relief, love.

Nothing about this moment is simple or clear. This space can hold that. This space is capable of honoring connection. Connection to Kotschi and to one another. Today we gather for one purpose, to show reverence for a life we loved and that we’ve lost too soon. We gather to love Kotschi.

Passing of the Peace

Presider:

Kotschi’s life touched many. That is obvious by the number of people gathered here today. But many of us have not had the chance to meet each other. Let us take a moment to pull the many threads of his life more tightly together. Please take a moment to greet one another by offering a hug or a handshake.

Prayer And Candle Lighting

The presider signals for four friends, identified ahead of time, to come forward. Each person is to represent a different part of Kotschi’s life.

Presider:

Together we light a candle symbolizing the light of Kotschi’s spirit and the light he brought to our lives.

The four approach the altar and each light a lean white tapered candle from the black candles on each corner of the altar. Together they simultaneously light the large white candle in the center of the altar.

Presider:

Kotschi had a complicated relationship to God. A relationship many of us didn’t understand or even know about. He wanted desperately to be loved by God and it was one of his deepest fears that he wasn’t. He feared that some of the choices he made or who he was kept him from God. I don’t believe that. I believe in a God that adored him and adored him precisely for who he was. In fact I know that some of us saw the sacred in his silliness, his kindness, his deep longing for love.

For many in this room God is not a comfortable word or concept. Maybe because God is not part of your belief system, maybe you use different names for the divine, or maybe because right now you are angry with God, furious. It would make sense. Today, out of respect for Kotschi’s beliefs, I’ll use words like God, but as I do I invite you to use whatever words resonate personally for you.

Please join me in a moment of prayer:

Spirit of our hearts, universe, creator, that which is greater than this moment, God. See us as we are and send us comfort. We are in need. We are grieving, frozen, messy, numb, inconsolable, raging. Meet each of us in our grief exactly as it comes. Help hold us in this space. A space that knows all that is complicated and unspoken. All that was hard and sweet and tender. Stay with us as we grieve this brilliant life, this love.

Together we pray for Kotschi’s peace. That the ache and burden that was once so heavy is now removed. We pray he has found the freedom he searched for. Stay beside him in this time of transition. Help him feel our love. It is unconditional. Amen.

Releasing in Flame

Presider:

Kotschi had many secrets. He entrusted the people in this room with some of them. Some of you were his secrets. Some secrets we will never know, and that won’t be good enough. Not for a long time. The questions he leaves us with will change us, but let us change for the better. Let us care more deeply for one another. I think he would want that for us.

When a life is lost so abruptly it is hard to know what to do. There is so much left unsaid. We never got a chance to say goodbye or I love you or I’m sorry. And now we are here and he is gone. And some of us are angry. Some of us blame him. Some of us blame each other. Some of us understand.

In the front of the room there are four black candles, each a symbol of mourning. Beside them there are slips of paper. I invite you now to come forward, write down what has been left unsaid, and send it up to him or release it. You’ll find a bowl near each candle. Write what needs to be written, use the candles to set it on fire, and drop it into the bowl.

You’re welcome to forward at this time.

Music

To be played as people are participating in the ritual.

Words Of Remembrance

Presider:

We gather here, grateful for Kotschi’s life. We acknowledge that he was not perfect. We wouldn’t have wanted him to be. For it was in his effort, his trying, his searching, that we found the essence of him. His true heart. His true character. His love. His joy. He was human and we pray now that his soul has peace.

Stories are key to healing, they help us form memory. They help us keep people we love with us. Now we’ll hear words from a few who loved Kotschi dearly. There will be more room to share with one another at the reception. I would now like to invite Jessie forward.

Jessie speaks for 5-10 minutes.

Thank you Jessie. John, you may come forward.

John speaks for 5-10 minutes.

We know there is more to say and we are lucky to have our whole lifetime to carry stories of Kotschi with us.

Anointing

Goes to the altar to get the anointing oil.

Presider:

In Christianity, and other faiths, the tradition of anointing with oil has been used for many purposes. Someone might be anointed if they were in need of healing or to protect them when embarking on a journey. The olive branch was viewed as symbol of peace and thus this olive oil, a balm of peace. But more so anointing oil was used to mark something as holy, as sacred.

We prepare now to release Kotschi to his next journey (Presider approaches the casket) and as we do we pray for his peace and his healing. We mark him and his life as holy (Presider anoints his forehead).

Pause

And just as he embarks on a new journey so do we. Ours is a journey of grief, of learning to live anew, of absorbing the lessons he’s taught us, and of healing.

As we prepare to close the casket I invite each of you to come forward and mark this moment. Take a final moment with Kotschi, and bless him on his journey. There is a small bowl of oil waiting for you. You are welcome to anoint his hands, his forehead, or if you are more comfortable, anoint the casket itself.

And as you return to your seats, I encourage you to mark your own journey as well by allowing a community member to anoint you on your hands or forehead if you so wish.

Music and Closing of the Casket

Music is to play during the time of anointing.

Once everyone has returned to their seat the casket is closed.

Final Prayer, Scripture (Numbers 6:22-27)

Presider:

Let us close our time together with an ancient prayer. You can find the words printed in your bulletin. Let us say together:

All:

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Amen

Presider:

May you go forward with Kotschi’s love in your heart and deep care and consideration for one another. Amen.

 

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