Monday, September 27, 2021

Funerals: Special Times for Tributes, Celebration of Life, and Healing

My wife and I recently attended a funeral of a good friend of ours, a father of six and only 49 years old. He died from complications of COVID-19. The events leading up to his death were sad. The family posted several times, requesting thoughts and prayers, which we gladly did. Then, early one morning, his wife posted a Facebook message came, informing all that he had passed away. 

Our hearts and minds were deluged with sadness for his family and the tumultuous time they had over the past few weeks, watching the gradual yet tragic decline of their husband and father. On Sunday evening, we went over for a candlelight vigil at their home. Many people attended, saddened and grieving, most with the question why? 

We attended the funeral a week later on a beautiful Saturday morning. We thought we had arrived early, but there were so many people already there at the viewing, watching a video of his life, talking, and reminiscing. Funerals are like that. People from their past and present congregate to celebrate the life of the person who has died and give encouragement to the family and friends. 

This man’s funeral ran the gamut of many emotions—happiness, sadness, peace, spirituality, and positivity. Two of the daughters spoke about their father, their best friend, and confidant. We heard from his brother about his early life and his fight for his life at the beginning and growth and even his role as the family jokester and prankster. We learned of this man’s propensity to help people, no matter who they were or what they were doing. We cried, we laughed, we smiled, and we remembered him and the impact he had on all of our lives. 

During the funeral, I remembered my mother’s and father’s funerals and the kind words we received through music, talks, and private conversations. I remembered the poem I wrote when my mother died, and tears welled up in my eyes. At my father’s viewing, one of my childhood friends looked at me and said, “Now, we are both orphans.” Until that moment, I had not realized that true statement, now that both of my parents had passed. We talked about that and the support we had both received from so many people on that day we became orphans and the days and years since. 

Before my mother’s funeral, my little brother decided he would make my mother’s casket from oak. My brother and I helped him, and it took us a few days to construct, sand, and then stain. It was absolutely beautiful, and many people commented about how they would like one just like it. We knew she would have liked it. Constructing the casket took away some of the pain as we sanded away the bumps and other imperfections, making the wood smooth to the touch. That’s what people do at funerals. They are sometimes the sandpaper, giving us hope and smoothing out the sadness. For our family, people were so kind to us, even though we were already grown, and most of us had families of our own. 

I also remembered about two funerals that Noel Raymond and I officiated in Menan, Idaho, many years ago. The funerals were some of the saddest I had ever attended. The first one was for three children who had died instantly in a car crash as their father was rounding a corner and smashed into a cement embankment on late, dark, and chilly October evening. Hundreds of people came to the Church, sat in the pews, and were quiet, except for some crying and sniffling. I could hardly get through the conducting part because I was so sad, so devastated at the loss of my friends. 

The father could not attend because he was fighting for his life in the intensive care unit at the local hospital. The mother of the three sat stunned at the thoughts of the present and afraid for the future. One of her sons, an eight-year-old, still lay in a hospital room, with one of his legs amputated below the knee and the other one in jeopardy. The other two who survived the crash were there, confused, heads down, still wounded about the whole ordeal. 

Not a week later, we were back conducting the father’s funeral. Yet, there was a peace about it because of the overwhelming support of the friends of the family, even people who barely knew them. They had come together to support and to show peace and comfort through words, prayers, pats on the backs, hugs, and just thoughts that hovered in the air like comfort blankets. 

Overall, funerals are tributes to the deceased, celebrations of their lives, and times for healing and comfort for those who remain. Even though our friend had died, I again felt the comfort and reassurance of the plan of happiness that I so adamantly believe in, knowing that he and all the others will live again and become whole. This reassurance lifted me as I listened to the singing of hymns, the talks, the hilarious stories about him and his family, and the positivity from this family who had just lost their father and husband to the devastating COVID, which has taken millions and is not finished with us. 

Truly funerals are not supposed to be completely sad although death is a challenging concept to even understand. It is a time, though, for the family, the community, and friends to come together to remember the good and the positive and to celebrate the life of the person who has died. While sadness and sorrow still hover in the room, the glow from friends and compassion and love help dissipate the sadness and other emotions that course through the crowd. 

Funerals are like one of the daughters said, “Dad is probably laughing right now, saying, ‘Hey, it’s okay. I am fine. You are going to be fine. Besides, what it comes down to is love, true, honest love.”