When we started going to our church over ten years ago, they were planning a huge gym to house Sunday School classrooms, and Awanas. We watched as the plans changed, and a stage was added, and the gym made full size. Then as the church grew, it was not long before we bought over 250 stackable chairs and started holding all our services in the gym. My husband and all our sons were once part of the chair stacking and setting out groups with a once a month duty. Most weddings and funerals were held in the old chapel, or fellowship hall.
But, yesterday, our first funeral was held in the Family Life Center. The same gym where we held James and Amber's wedding reception now held all the chairs and a casket and huge sprays of flowers. Part of me was glad our first funeral was not of a young person. While the gym is well suited for that, I have been dreading this day.
The dear lady from our church who died had a large and loving family as well as a reputation of being a wonderful, gentle Christian lady. She was 87. Married to her sweetheart for over 68 years. I never knew she was a redhead, but the story of how they met at our church back when it was called Harrison Chapel, that story and many more brought tears to my eyes. The older pastor usually conducts the funerals of the old timers, and as usual talks about himself toooo much. He said he was seventy now. A lot of old folks love the way he does a funeral, but Bob and I go home swearing don't ever let him do the funeral for one of us. The younger pastor has also grown up in our church and knows the dear lady that passed, and makes a point of visiting in hospitals, nursing homes, wherever, so his last words come from personal knowledge, and close communication. And he gave the Gospel, which is the most important part of a funeral. One solo, an oldtimer, did a great job, and we sang a hymn, but the service needed more hymns, more solos.
(Time to grouse. When area funeral homes are used, they sorta take over your church, and I bristled being told where to go in my own church. And the barbaric custom in this town of making everyone parade by the open casket makes my hackles rise up. I refuse to participate in this barbaric herding. I have been to so many funerals, that I know the drill. I hate it when they herd everyone by the casket and you are forced to listen to dear sister so and so talk about what a wonderful job they did embalming him or her. I don't want to remember him or her that way. I think caskets should be closed at funerals, and I like the idea of cremation ahead of time so that a tiny urn sits there looking at everyone with the sign: Here lies Joyce, thin at last, thin at last, thank you Lord we did not have to hurt our backs carrying her dead body to the grave. Of course, dear sister so and so will remark that there wasn't a casket big enough anyway...)
One hour. One hour to condense down a life of 87 years. One hour because we would not want to intrude or bore or impose. A big dinner was waiting for the family. We feed the grieving here in the South. And this dear, dear lady that passed cooked and cleaned and served at countless such dinners, funerals, weddings, parties, and services. She donated flowers, food, help, sweat, time, and energy. And now it was our turn to do it for her.
One hour. And that includes the singing, so choose the hymns well. And hope the preacher knew ya. And give them the Gospel. The Gospel is the most important thing, because we are here for eighty some years, maybe, yet our lives hang by a thread. And you may be remembered by a generation or two, and your name may be on a plaque or a tombstone with just your name, dates and a dash.
The dear lady that passed, her husband donated the church bell, and had the bell tower built. There is no sadder sound than a bell tolled slowly in grief. No sadder sound. They should have rung it 87 times...or maybe 68, but seven was the chosen number. Like a twenty-one gun salute.
The last of three sisters, faithful wife, gentle, peaceful friend. We shall miss you. Thank you for such a wonderful example. Thank you for showing us such class, such grace, such kindness and sweet words of encouragement. You would have liked the service. The flowers were gorgeous. Say Hi to Sis for us.