ERROL CASTENS: ‘You never know’



A few days more than 10 years ago we at the Daily Journal suffered the sudden loss of Tony Launius, our copy editor extraordinaire and a fellow it would take great effort not to like.

After Tony’s death, all the folks in the newsroom were asked to write our own obituaries so we’d have them on file just in case.

You never know.

It’s a sobering thing to write about yourself in a purely past tense, but it forces you to think about what you value, what you want your life to have been, what adjustments you might make with your unknown amount of remaining time.

It’s likewise a good exercise to think about other details that you want to have handled before that time comes. Life insurance and investments come to mind. A will does, too.

It puts some people at ease to have a burial plot before it’s needed. (One of my relatives recently made use of the cemetery space he’d bought more than 50 years before. Being a good businessman, Uncle Leon might have called it “the ultimate real estate investment.”)

Planning their own funeral is macabre for some people to contemplate, but for those with the bent, it’s yet another chance to share what they valued.

Here’s what I’m planning so far:

• Nothing in the coffin (a plain pine box will do nicely) but my carcass and enough clothes to be decent while people glance down to make sure it is I.

• Nothing in my pockets – no keys, pens, lights, pocketknife, wallet, money or any of countless other things I carry in the course of a day.

• The preacher should say only enough about me to let folks know they’re in the right service and to share an illustration or two from my life that might reinforce his message.

• Songs that two good singers can render well – maybe “I Will Bring You Home” by Michael Card and “Oh, to See the Dawn of the Darkest Day” by Stewart Townend and Keith Getty. The latter song ends with these magnificent lyrics: “Oh, to see my name written in the wounds, for through Your suffering I am free. Death is crushed to death; life is mine to live, won through Your selfless love. This, the pow’r of the cross: Son of God – slain for us. What a love! What a cost! We stand forgiven at the cross.”

• Songs that the congregation can handle – probably “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “It Is Well with My Soul.”

• Preaching that emphasizes, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Christ and Him crucified.” It’ll offer the essentials of the gospel of Jesus – sin, sacrifice, redemption and eternal life.

It may be uncomfortable to think about one’s own funeral, but except for Lazarus, Huck Finn and a handful of others, we don’t get but one shot at it. It might as well be about what we value most.

It might influence a life – or an eternity. You never know.

Errol Castens is a reporter for the Daily Journal and Oxford Citizen. Contact him at (662) 816-1282 or

Click video to hear audio