Ann Althouse links to a story about the funeral of a young man who committed suicide. There is certainly a lot that it odd about the story. Clergy usually do respect the wishes of family in what is said and done in a funeral. I don't know if Roman Catholic clergy are more likely to paddle their own canoe on such matters. The family apparently tried to interrupt him during his homily they were so upset. They also asked told son's previous highschool football coach to leave the service, because they felt he had mistreated the boy in a string of insulting incidents over the years. The coach, stung, commented about it negatively on FB and was fired for it. His comments included the idea that people should blame him because that's how society is now, and no one will look in a mirror. That seems an insensitive thing to say about parents sho have just lost their son. On the other hand, the mother is quoted as contradicting him by saying they did not blame him. Well, yes they did. They may not have blamed him for the suicide - nothing is said of that - but for how he treated their son, and their other sons, the did publicly blame him.
The Archdiocese of Detroit apologised to the family, agreeing that the priest should not have preached as he did and promising he would not preach at funerals anymore. The news story quotes clergy from suicide comfort groups in Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, stressing that how we view suicide has changed, and we are more likely to note that mental illness plays a role in many suicides (the article does not say this is the case in this particular suicide), that situations are complicated, and there is no longer a blanket condemnation and insistence that the person is going to hell. The Catholic catechism does not make such a statement, focusing on the mercy and sovereignty of God in such situations. I don't know how that was taught in earlier years. There is also the matter of copycat suicide, and not encouraging in any way that other young people do the same.
It is, as I said, odd. I think we tend to defer to the person perceived as closest to the deceased as the most affected person and most deserving of having things his or her way. When my mother died, we deferred first to the wishes she had left in writing, but in everything else to the wishes of my stepfather. I have a theology which respects marriage as one flesh, and consider the spouse's needs to be highest. But also, my brother and I mostly didn't want to get into a fight about things when he shuttled us off to the side, rather invisible. Though he was insulting us in a way that would have hurt my mother, our "making a scene" about it would have hurt her more. Yet notice the primacy we give to what she would have wanted. It is quite natural, but it does miss the fact that the funeral is for those grieving.
So, all this and I don't know enough to have much opinion about the matter. There is clearly much unsaid. There is a piece that jumped out at me, however. The family - or at any rate, the parents - wanted this to be "a celebration of his life." That is a phrase we hear a lot now, and I wonder if it does not get us off point a bit. I think my first experience of it was the funeral of a girl a year behind me in highschool, who I had known from church choir growing up. She was a wild child, and got drunk, drove fast, and crashed into a barrier when she was fifteen. Another friend was distressed because she didn't have a black dress to wear to the funeral, but her mother reassured her that "Peggy was very full of life," so the white dress was not inappropriate. That struck me as a wrong note even then. I think attendance matters more than what colors one has available, and in our crew not many girls had lots of dresses. If white is the best you have, that's acceptable. Yet black is traditional for a reason, and in the absence of black, gray or other subdued colors were substituted. An essay by Theodore Dalrymple on the decreasing somberness of funerals has stuck with me for over a decade.
A celebration of life is a fine thing. Yet it is not the only thing. I don't know what early Christian funerals were like. Were the important affairs at all? I do know that there have been Christian cultures that engaged in paroxysms of public grief. The Congregationalists of the 20th C may have gone in for ultra-subdued remembrance and private grief, but their ancestors of the the 17th could drunkenly throw themselves into graves in anguish. (It was more about the confrontation with death, memento mori, than about remembering the deceased, though.) Yet the faults of that extreme should not send us to the other. A funeral is for grieving. Isn't it?
Something I learned years ago in contemplating one's own funeral is that we are very likely to say "Oh, it doesn't matter! Just put me in a box and say a few prayers. I'm not really there." But when we consider how the body of one we love is to be treated we rebel instantly against the idea that it should be handled with anything less than great respect. Whether the deceased is present there or not, that body was the only house they knew, and all we have of them for the moment.