My folks went to a lot of funerals and visitations for funerals when I was growing up. Many times I was privileged to participate in these functions. The first time I remember being at a funeral home was when my maternal grandfather Morgan Williams died. My dad picked me up in his arms and took me to the casket. As we stood there he gently explained to me that though it looked like he was sleeping that he had died. He told me that we would not get to see him any more after that day. But that my grandfather had gone to heaven and he was ok. I was five years old at the time and I guess that is about as much information a five year old boy can process. I remember many times when I was growing up that my dad would be called upon to serve as a pallbearer at a funeral for some family member or a neighbor or someone at church or even for someone that he barely knew. When this happened my dad would rearrange his work day and take care of this task. Without knowing it I think my dad was teaching me the lesson that when death occurs you have to deal with the inconvenience and stop long enough to respect the dead and express love to the families of the dead. When my dad died I rode to the cemetery in the hearse with the funeral director and he recounted to me the many times my dad had helped with a funeral by being a pallbearer. And that was just one funeral home! As my parents aged their funeral going activity increased. I would call them and ask them what they had been doing and they would tell me what town they had gone to for a funeral and whose funeral it was. I told them I thought they had found a new social outlet! My dad said "well son, that's what you do when you get older and your friends begin to die".
I have been to a lot of funerals and funeral visitations myself. I
have delivered the eulogy at more than 300 funerals. I have stood in long lines
and waited my turn to shake hands with or put my arm around a loved one and
express my appreciation for the deceased and offer my condolences. I hoped that
my brief moment by their side was helpful. But often I have wondered if it made
a difference or not. When my dad and mother died I stood at sentry by their
caskets and greeted each person who came through. I don't think I missed a one.
And I discovered that each person who took the time and made the effort to come
to the funeral home brought joy and comfort to my soul. Their presence and their
words were a precious gift that I treasured.
I think I am coming to the
point in life when like my dad and mother I may be going to more funerals. Not
because I have a professional responsibility but because I have friends who are
dying and loved ones of friends who are dying. Does it make any difference to
touch base with friends and family at times like this? Maybe I am old fashion
but I think it does. Visiting the grieving and helping people bury their dead
may or may not be a spiritual activity. But it is one of the most human and
neighborly things we can do.