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Oh Happy Day is not a good song choice for a funeral

Humorous moments often happen by accident in my family…My maternal grandfather was a Baptist minister turned alcoholic. He left my grandmother and six kids way before I was ever thought of by my mother and father. God knew I was coming eventually, but they didn’t at that time. 🙂  Part of me is sad I didn’t know him and the other part is glad. I do remember however when he was on his death bed. My mom and her sisters went to visit him, offered him help from addiction, etc. It was a sad ending because he never gave up drinking even after receiving unsolicited forgiveness from his children. The funny part is for some reason my mom and aunts thought they should sing a song when he was ill in the hospital. Amazing Grace would have been appropriate since they were mirroring God’s grace at this time, but NO…they chose “Oh Happy Day”, which later on we all thought was hilarious. They didn’t mean anything funny by it at the time but that was one of those accidental humorous moments in my family.

I’m not going to give a list of ways people can cope with grief today. I’m simply going to say that in my life, I’ve noticed people grieving in a variety of ways. It is helpful for us all not to judge anyone who is grieving.

Some people get stuck and don’t move on, don’t go out of the house, etc. for a while. Some people move away, move on, or run period, etc. Some combine staying still for a while and then running, etc. Some are forced to seek survival, some seek therapy, some seek drugs, etc.

I’m a complete dork and I love PBS. While watching a PBS special the other night on the Roosevelt family, I learned that Theodore Roosevelt lost his mother and wife on the time day within a four hour period. His wife had just given birth to their first child four days earlier. When he heard the news, he came home, ask his sister to take care of his daughter, and he ran to the West. He couldn’t even speak their names. Many people judged him but he grieved the way he needed to and survived the grief in the end and was able to raise his daughter in the end and got remarried. Many people judged him I’m sure.

People who are grieving don’t need judgmental family members and friends, they need supportive ones even if we don’t understand their choices.

Have an Oh Happy Day,


By Natalie Atwell Counseling

Dr. Natalie Atwell is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor in NC and a Board Certified Professional Christian Counselor. She values being transparent, honest, knowing when to be silly and when not to be silly (which isn't that often) and thinks laughter is a gift from God.

3 replies on “Oh Happy Day is not a good song choice for a funeral”

Once in conversation my Mum told me she loved the gospel hymn ‘Oh Happy Day’ and she wanted it at her funeral. I laughed and said it was wholly inappropriate but as a devout Catholic she said it was the perfect choice, having Jesus washing a person’s sins away so they can go to heaven and live in the glory of God was something to be celebrated.
It stuck with me.
My Mum, a healthy and energetic seventy year old, collapsed seemingly without explanation. Her doctor reassured her she had an ear infection, and as her condition deteriorated her symptoms seemed to match that of Vertigo. But things got worse and we repeatedly pushed the doctor to order scans, the more we were brushed off the more we insisted. By the time the doctor finally took my Mum’’s condition seriously it was too late. She didn’t have Vertigo, she had inoperable and untreatable brain cancer. We brought our beloved mother home and looked after her every minute of every day. She died three weeks later.
We had a choir sing ‘Oh Happy Day’ at her funeral. It wasn’t a happy day at all, I don’t think I’ve had one truly happy day since she died two years ago, but that was a happy moment and everyone appreciated the true meaning of thr song. For us it was a good choice.

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