NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, July 16th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Funeral songs. 

Music is a powerful medium capable of expressing a full range of emotions, from sadness and grief, to joy and hope. Especially when family members are saying their final goodbyes.

EICHER: WORLD correspondent Kim Henderson recently asked several people what songs they’d like to have at their funerals. Here’s how they replied.

KIM HENDERSON, COMMENTATOR: Colby McMorris is only 32, but he’s been working at his family’s funeral home for half his life. It’s a busy business. Ten funerals are in the works today. When McMorris sits down at a conference table for a break, it becomes clear he knows a few things about funeral music.  

MCMORRIS: You know, you always fall back on “The Old Rugged Cross” or “Amazing Grace”, “Beulah Land” are probably the main three hymns that we see more than any. 

He says it’s important to give some thought to what will be sung or played at your funeral, no matter how old you are. He and his wife have their wishes written down. 

MCMORRIS: You’d be surprised how many families would like to go back and see exactly what their loved one may have wanted. Talking about it helps children and spouses not to make those decisions based on what they think.

BATES: It was important to me…

Ginny Bates agrees. She’s at her mother’s house for a Saturday afternoon visit.

Bates says her mom is adamant about what hymns she wants played, and that’s fine with her.

BATES: When the time does come that she does pass, I don’t think I’ll be in any condition to be making major decisions.

BRITT: I’m Ethel Mae Britt, and I’m 95 years old…

That’s Bates’ mother. 

SONG: IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL

BATES: I have two different hymns I’d like to have at my funeral, and one of them is “It is Well with my Soul.”   

Her life experiences form her preference for Horatio Spafford’s “It is Well:” like living through the Depression and losing the family farm, then marrying a man who had suffered as a POW in Germany. But what does she want this hymn to convey at her funeral, when she’s lying there in a casket?

BRITT: I want my friends and family to realize that everything is alright with me, for what Christ has done for me.

And there was a second hymn Britt mentioned. She wants her niece to play “How Great Thou Art” on an “ulcimer.” I think she means dulcimer.   

SONG: HOW GREAT THOU ART

But that’s news to her niece, Fran.

SMITH: I didn’t know that (LAUGHTER)

Fran’s seated outside her house next to a garden with tomatoes hanging heavy on the outside row. Her dulcimer lays across her lap, and she easily picks out the tune, no sheet music in sight. 

SMITH: I’ll do my best to get it done for her.

A few miles away, a couple is also sitting in the shade. They’re beside their driveway under a stand of crepe myrtles. 

SMITH: My name is John Paul Smith, and I’m 90 years old. Never believed I’d live to see 90 years… 

Smith and his wife, Bessie, landed on a couple of the same hymn picks. 

JOHN PAUL: “I’ll Fly Away” is one that I like…

BESSIE: I’ll Fly Away is my favorite…

SONG: I’LL FLY AWAY

The sound of a metal swing helps him keep time as he sings.

They also want “Amazing Grace” at their funerals.

DUET: AMAZING GRACE

JOHN PAUL: “Amazing Grace” especially is probably one of the favorites of so many people…

BESSIE: ’Cause we all feel like a wretch (LAUGHTER). 

But there was one point up for discussion. John Paul expressed his opinion that funerals are sad, as well as their hymns. 

BESSIE: I disagree with the funerals being sad. The Lord has taken you home from all the pain and suffering.
JOHN PAUL: You’re right there, Darling. 

KILPATRICK: I am Zach Kilpatrick, and I am 34 years old.

Kilpatrick is a Baptist pastor, but he thinks his hymn choice would be unfamiliar to church members raised on more contemporary worship songs. 

SONG: A MIGHTY FORTRESS IS OUR GOD

KILPATRICK: I really like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” I love the message of the song. Any hymn that would point my family not to think as much about me, but to think about His promises… 

He says funeral music serves a dual purpose, and both involve memories and reminders.    

KILPATRICK: One, it allows the family to think about the loved one. You know, “This was a mom’s favorite hymn. This was, you know, my, my grandfather’s song that he would whistle when he was in the yard.” But then of course the words of the hymns, whenever they’re good, theologically sound hymns are also reminding the family of the goodness of the Lord. 

And that to be absent from the body is to be home with the Lord. That’s what a Methodist minister’s wife emphasized. 

IRVING: My name is Lisa Irving… 

Irving is busy raising two teenage daughters, but she’s thought about her funeral. She wants the contemporary “Give Myself Away” on the program, as well as one she learned long ago at her church in Chicago—Jessy Dixon’s gospel standard, “I Am Redeemed.” 

SONG: I AM REDEEMED

IRVING: I want everyone to know that I am. It’s nothing that I did. It’s all Jesus. But at the same time, don’t worry. I’m ok. I’m redeemed. Look for me. I’ll be in heaven.

There was one last stop I wanted to make on my rounds—a couple celebrating 68 years of marriage. Dad was happy to oblige regarding his hymn.

SONG: BECAUSE HE LIVES

And even though she’s forgetting so much these days, Mom picked out a few bars of hers. 

PIANO: LILY OF THE VALLEY
ANITA: He’s the Lily of the Valley…

Then she chimed in for the close with words fitting for any funeral—any time, any where. 

ANITA: He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul…

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson in Wesson, Mississippi.


(Photo/iStock)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “No dirge needed

  1. A grateful listener says:

    I was already hard at work on the treadmill this morning when the audio version of this story began to play. Tears joined the sweat on my brow as I wept because of the moving interviews and the shared songs of precious brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank you Kim, for this food for thought.

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