View Full Version : Secular death poem for a funeral

12-21-2015, 04:34 PM
My sister has died and I've been looking for suitable poems to read at the funeral. But nearly all of them have a theistic bent. I'm an atheist, so was she as well as everybody else in our extended family. Not strange, considering this is Sweden.

Nothing wrong with religious metaphor as such. But I just can't bring myself to read a poem about my sister in a better place. I'mean pretty sure it'll ring false to everybody present. I want a poem that celebrates life, and focuses on the life she had. I just seem to be having trouble finding such a funereal poem.

Any help would be much appreciated. Even just if it's where to look

12-21-2015, 05:25 PM
So sorry for your loss. I'm from an atheist family (although personally I'm agnostic with religious tendencies) and get what you mean. Have you looked into the humanist society and whether they have any suggestions? They do funerals, naming ceremonies and various life passages for atheists/humanists.

12-21-2015, 05:46 PM
We're going to have the funeral in a church. We talked about it. None of us has any problems with religiosity. We're just atheists. We're not anti-religious. It's just a matter of me wanting to read a poem for my sister that feels as if it is from my heart. Religious poems just won't work for me. Or anybody else there.

Telling grieving atheists that their lost loved one is in a better place is... well... it's a bit insulting. For several reasons and on several levels.

12-21-2015, 05:50 PM
I'm sorry for your loss, DrZoidberg.

I agree that looking at humanist websites might be a good source, as well as the Unitarian Universalist resources. The latter include but are not limited to atheists; however, they always make a point of serving the entire range of belief so I feel pretty sure there will be something available in their material.

ETA: In the UU hymnal, Singing The Living Tradition, in the back are numerous passages to be read at all kinds of services and ceremonies. If you can get hold of one of those (library? a local UU fellowship?) you might very well find something suitable in those pages. There are poems such as I Think Continually of Those, by Stephen Spender -- for example -- and other selections that focus on the connection with living memory and those who are dead, in various ways.

I hope that's helpful.

12-21-2015, 07:08 PM
Dr. Zoidberg, I'm so sorry for your loss. I think Kyla's suggestion is a good one. Also, you might find something useful here (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2010/02/14/resources-for-an-atheists-funeral/).

ETA -- Here's a bunch of such poetry: http://ffrf.org/outreach/secular-funerals#poetry

I very much empathize with you -- I am also an atheist and I lost my father this summer. I too found it very difficult to hear the "you'll see him in heaven" etc. type comments when I don't believe that. I can only tell you that they do mean well. Try to take them as they are meant -- as expressions of love and support, if ill-aimed ones in your particular case.

I put together the funeral services and wake for my father. I had the difficult task of reconciling my own atheist beliefs with those of the very religious Catholics that comprise the rest of my family and my parents' friends, without hurting them or being a hypocrite myself.

My own solution was to read a poem about death my father had written himself as a teen, and then to give a non-religious eulogy about how wonderful he was and how much I loved him. Since, between the relatives and the priest, Bible readings were mandatory, I found ones that I thought were beautiful, that didn't overtly drip with religion, and that had some meaning for me beyond the religion in them. (e.g., Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes%203:1-8&version=KJV):

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

The church made us (my 12 year old niece did that reading) leave off the last line, which I found irritating, but whatever. It's a church.

12-21-2015, 08:21 PM
I ran into a similar issue when planning my father's funeral. My mother is fairly religious, and my father, who wasn't, only attended to make her happy (his favorite church song was called "Pray for the Fish," a humorous little ditty about a fellow who's so sinful that when he gets baptized, the resulting water pollution threatens the fish in the river). I didn't mind having the memorial service at their church, but it seemed wrong to have readings that didn't represent his actual views.

Luckily their pastor is pretty awesome. He didn't bat an eye when I asked if there were "any Bible passages we could use that didn't actually mention God or Jesus," (also, luckily, my mother found my request hilarious rather than offensive). He went with a section about "You shall know them by their fruits," that focused on the positive impact my father made during his life. It turned out really nice.

12-21-2015, 08:42 PM
Not a poem as such, but the thing about having a physicist speak at your funeral (http://thankgodforevolution.com/node/1960) is pretty beautiful, imo. Maybe you can riff off of that?

Sorry for your loss.

01-10-2016, 06:06 AM
Thanks for all your help. But I didn't find a poem I thought suited. So I wrote this:

"A vibrant energy is now missing. A Jenny shaped hole in our universe. It will be lonely without you, without my big sister.

You live in our memories now. In my mind I conjure up your image, see you speak, hear your words. You are still with me when I write, when I’m writing this. I can hear you now telling me to shorten it. Get to the point. Cut the boring bits. You were always very good at giving me just the feedback I needed when I needed it.

We share this passion, you and me. We both love writing. We often shared what we’d written. When we could we would write together, side-by-side. Those were my favourite moments with you.

When you leaned back and cleared your throat I knew you were ready to share what you’d written. Some days you would tell me not to be critical, only tell you to say what I liked about it. Because some days you were too sensitive for criticism. Some days you are still sensitive, Jenny in my mind.

You were an amazing listener. Generous with your time and your soul. So giving, always present, absorbing whatever I shared as if it was the most important thing in the world. Sorry… still a good listener. Jenny in my mind.

I love you sister Jenny. I will forever be grateful for the time you gave me."

Today was the funeral and it was incredibly dignified and warm. The best possible farewell.

01-10-2016, 06:12 AM
That's a lovely tribute, DrZoidberg. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Again, I'm so sorry for your loss.

01-10-2016, 02:55 PM
Thank you, DrZoidberg, for letting us know. That's a wonderful piece you wrote.

01-11-2016, 07:12 PM
You gave your sister a beautiful tribute. I'm sorry for your loss.