I attended a funeral today. Kin by heart, not by blood, of someone I met in the gray end of life, when you’re not sure where autumn ends and winter begins. Good people get to you, they work themselves in, without trying, just by being, and next thing you know, they claim some heart, and then you lose them…
The Quiet Departures Of The Unfamous
As a little boy my first experience with death was on a national scale, watching President Kennedy’s funeral pageantry, nothing else on TV, or the front page of the papers, or the lips of conversation, and maybe, in my little mind, I thought ‘That’s how it’s supposed to be.’
Years pass, death comes, takes my grandfather. I still have a bad taste, at how someone so good, and important to me, went to ground with just a few paragraphs in the paper, a preacher saying saltless words over someone he hardly knew, the long, slow ride to the cemetery, cars pulled over as we pass, strangers, don’t know who’s in the fancy box or who’s crying in the third car. Once we pass, they fill the road back up again, like water going around a rock.
I came home from that funeral and wrote a poem, not that I was either a writer or a poet, but something inside me detested the in-your-faceness of how life goes on without us.
I remember some of that poem, “death blackened my eye”, “who was this preacher, with the used car salesman look, reading words from God’s black book…’
There have been many deaths since. I have learned, relearned, and over-learned that we are but drops of rain. My head accepts it, my heart doesn’t.
Sing It, Neil Young
There was this song, Looking For A Heart Of Gold, circa ’72, and it was popular because it spoke to a universal yearning.
“It’s these expressions, I never give, that keep me searching for a heart of gold.”
Alive, alive, and somewhere along the way don’t we all start looking for the What Really Matters, especially after roads lead to more roads that lead to more roads, no trust for the map, no joy with the scenery, no stations to refuel our empty tanks…
That’s why I think funerals are sacred. There is such honesty there. People are crusty and walled, and then comes a death, and we honor the deceased more with our hugs of each other, with the “We” that only occurred because of the silent one in the box.
I go to church, and snooze, but not at a funeral. Here, in the stop-your-life of someone dying, we speak no ill, hug with abandon, are ambushed with tears we did not order, over dressed, emotionally naked, and acutely aware of being alive.
It’s terrible, it’s thrilling, it’s loss and gain, it’s spiritual in a way that Sunday-in-the-pews cannot compete with.
Duck In My Pocket
Norma worked from age 16 on. I met her in her gray hair years at Bo’s Video, in Sulphur. She was the one and only employee, from open to close, every day. I respected her immediately. One day I walked to the counter with a baby duckling in my shirt pocket (don’t ask), and we were having a fine conversation until her eyes found movement, and that little yellow head popped out.
It was the beginning of a friendship, and because of our age difference, she was like a second mother.
As long as I’ve known her, she was old. Hair gray unto white, fingers knotted from arthritis, her back bent from osteoporosis, but she was beautiful of character. Not only could she measure up to my parent’s generation, she’d owe no apology to those life tough characters who raised the Greatest Generation.
She loved her offspring like God intended women to do. She was glue, giving, accepting, the unifier of family generations.
This year she finally got old. She put up a good fight, inspiring to watch, but true to her toughness, consideration, and her take-life-as-it-is attitude, one night, with her daughters keeping watch, she waved her hands in front of her, meaning No More. Next morning with all her children by her bed, she announced she was ready to go, if it was okay with them…
Sing It, Al Green
“And how can you mend a broken heart? How can you stop the rain from falling down? How can you stop the sun from shining? What makes the world go round? How can you mend this broken man? How can a loser ever win? Please help me mend my broken heart and let me live again.”
It is my experience that you cannot hurt the same way twice. I’ve been the weepy teenager with no appetite, and I’ve become the grown man who can throw away the damp tissue and go back to work. Maybe that’s considered tougher, but so far, every time, every death is like a fingerprint, no two alike, breaking my heart in their own unique way. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Maybe the heartbreak of death is a crack in the wall between us and God, where we can peek in and see some strand of His heart, and wonder how He feels about our wonderful, imperfect loved ones, where John 3:16 comes to life, with a death.
I am of that running-out-of-time age. Life has made me humble. I’m not going to be a Big Deal, which turns my eyes away from pride and towards the spiritual. I trust that there is More, after this. Six decades in, I am still a child inside, needing his Father to make some useful light out of the flame that is left, and to be there, at my end, like He was at Norma’s, doing a cesarean of the soul, taking me to where He took her, to Gift and Grace, to Ever and Reunion…
As For Those Who Were With The Casket Last
There is no cheat to mourning. You either mourn now, or mourn later. The closer you were, you more you owe for all you received.
I found beauty, and hearts of gold, in the way granddaughters comforted daughters, in the way spouses were leaned on, little clusters of grands and great grands, being initiated into the cycle of life. I found hearts of gold in the face muscle labor of men and sons trying to hold it in.
Feeling is such a gift, but requires us to feel pain as well as joy. What separates us from angels is that we have been at war with death and paid a different price to sing Amazing Grace as we enter the Pearly Gates.
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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is brought to you by Eighty-one, where we hope you know some people with hearts of gold, and would be willing to bear the broken heart of their loss.
Find his Bedtime Stories on the Eighty-one Facebook page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is brought to you by Eighty-one, where we hope you trust that if you tell God “Thy will be done,” He will take that seriously…and it will be better than your will being done…
Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories can be found on the Eighty-one Facebook page. He can be reached at email@example.com.