Sweet, sometimes geeky, and generally non-religious funeral readings

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"If there ever comes a day," mantle piece quote sign by Etsy seller CiderHouseMill
“If there ever comes a day,” mantle piece quote sign by Etsy seller CiderHouseMill

When my grandfather passed away, I was asked to do a reading at the funeral. Fortunately for me, by a wonderfully convenient chance discovery, I stumbled across the perfect funeral reading.

What if, unlike my grandpa, your loved one did not leave behind helpful clues as to what to read? Don’t fret — you have enough upset right now. Just scroll down this post and hopefully the perfect reading will resonate with you.

“A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

“i carry your heart with me ” e.e.cummings

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

A quote from Winnie the Pooh

If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together there is something you must always remember… You are braver than you believe. Stronger than you seem and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is even if we are apart I’ll always be with you.

“Remember” by Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

“Eulogy from a Physicist” by Aaaron Freeman

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy — every vibration, every bit of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child — remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure — that scientists have measured precisely — the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.

“Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

“Bilbo’s Last Song (At the Grey Havens)” by JRR Tolkien

Day is ended, dim my eyes,
but journey long before me lies.
Farewell, friends! I hear the call.
The ship’s beside the stony wall.
Foam is white and waves are grey;
beyond the sunset leads my way.
Foam is salt, the wind is free;
I hear the rising of the Sea.

Farewell, friends! The sails are set,
the wind is east, the moorings fret.
Shadows long before me lie,
beneath the ever-bending sky,
but islands lie behind the Sun
that I shall raise ere all is done;
lands there are to west of West,
where night is quiet and sleep is rest.

Guided by the Lonely Star,
beyond the utmost harbour-bar,
I’ll find the heavens fair and free,
and beaches of the Starlit Sea.
Ship, my ship! I seek the West,
and fields and mountains ever blest.
Farewell to Middle-earth at last.
I see the Star above my mast!

Your turn, Homies. What are some funeral readings that have resonated with you?

Comments on Sweet, sometimes geeky, and generally non-religious funeral readings

  1. This is a series of quotes in the final song on Nightwish’s new Album. It is from the song Greatest Show on Earth and the quotes are narrated by Richard Dawkins (a well known evolutionary biologist and atheist). The very last part of the quote is by Charles Darwin and very poetic. For the right person, it would be a fitting tribute of how to appreciate all life, in all it’s forms.

    “After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life.
    Within decades we must close our eyes again.
    Isn’t it a noble and enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it?”

    “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of those stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

    “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

  2. The Eulogy from a Physicist is beautiful. As a non-theist, I dislike the idea of my funeral being all about how everyone should be comforted by the fact that I’m now in heaven, but on the other hand I do want my loved ones to be comforted.

    I’ve always loved Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep but I think it would beautifully complement Eulogy from a Physicist.

    • I have to agree that eulogy made me cry. I love how most of these are not very religious sure god is mentioned in one but it’s brief. I think I need to use these myself to plan my funeral. Everyone should have their funeral planned.

  3. ““You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.” – The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

  4. “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” is my all-time favorite poem, and I don’t even like poetry. It resonates so much more strongly with my atheist self than something afterlife-related. Plus it’s beautiful no matter how many times I read it.

  5. Slightly off-topic, I apologize.
    For people who wish to know more about death and the surrounding concepts, I highly recommend checking out the Youtube channel of and book by Caitlin Doughty of Ask a Mortician. Her work really helped me with death-acceptance. She is also a strong advocate for direct language about death: people don’t ‘pass on’ or ‘leave’, they ‘die’. It might sound harsh, but I find it oddly refreshing.

    On-topic: I find the lyrics of Annie Lennox’s ‘Into the West’ very comforting (though I see how that might contradict the very thing I just said).

    “Lay down
    Your sweet and weary head
    Night is falling
    You’ve come to journey’s end
    Sleep now
    And dream of the ones who came before
    They are calling
    From across the distant shore

    Why do you weep?
    What are these tears upon your face?
    Soon you will see
    All of your fears will pass away
    Safe in my arms
    You’re only sleeping […]

    Don’t know if I am allowed to copy it verbatim, but the rest is just as beautiful.

  6. I LOVE “Eulogy from a Physicist” by Aaaron Freeman. I lost my Dad a year ago and wish I had known this existed. It just made me cry like a baby, but it is SO beautiful!

    My eulogy for my Dad ended with the quote from Doctor Who “We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one.”

  7. This was read at my uncle’s memorial service, and it seemed particularly meaningful:

    Gone From My Sight
    by Henry Van Dyke

    I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
    spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
    for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
    I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
    of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

    Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone”

    Gone where?

    Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
    hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
    And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

    Her diminished size is in me — not in her.
    And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
    there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
    ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

  8. I read “Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep” at my Great Grandma’s funeral. I read it years and years ago and fell in love with it, and while searching for something to say in my grief I stumbled on it again and it fit perfectly. I almost didn’t read it myself, because the minister (who is also the juvenile probation officer for our county, and I knew him well from those types of encounters) had offered to read it for me. But I’m so glad I did. I’m sure I sounded awful and shaky, and I hurried along a bit so I wouldn’t burst into tears in front of everyone, but I just felt like it was something I had to say. I was a pallbearer for her as well so I would have ‘contributed’ either way, but I think I would really regret it if I hadn’t read that for her.

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