August 20, 2010: Absorb

After laying to rest another beautiful, beloved member of the human race today, I came home to a shopping date with my oldest son, Adam, who is leaving for college soon and needs sheets, and dishes, and cufflinks (yes really…)

It seemed like a resonable date to make when we made it.  Yet so often I forget to allow time after funerals to do …. absolutely nothing.  Officiating at a funeral is sort of like being a live paper towel.  I stand near the casket, as on an upright rack,  absorbing emotions from every surface.  The process begins with the interview with the family, continues through visitation, and the service, and when at last I am walking from the grave to the hearse for the ride back to the funeral home, it feels as if I exhale the entire way, unable to absorb one more thing including the breath that gives me life.

I am not complaining.  I am genuinely honored to step into the lives of those who are in their darkest hours and need someone to lead them through it.  It is holy ground;  shoes ought to be optional at all funerals.  It is often a hope-filled experience to hear the stories of the beloved who has died and realize that for however many years they walked the earth, they touched lives around them in profound ways.  Today, we laid to rest a 74 year old man, husband, father, brother, pa-paw.  His 20-something grandson delivered an eloquent euology speaking of how wise his grandfather had been, and he enumerated the lessons he would take from having known him.

Lessons like:  do the right thing, even if it’s hard.

Lessons like:  love the people you love with all you have.  Listen to them.  Hold them.  Hold them up.

Lessons like:  when your hands are crippled with Parkinson’s as mine have become, and you can no longer fix a simple household appliance, look over the shoulder of someone younger than you and teach them how to do it.

They are gut-wrenching experiences, officiating at funerals.  Every single one of them.  And the visions of people sobbing, lost in memories only they can see, holding one another up as they process out of the chapel remain long after I’ve forgotten the name of the one we laid to rest.

And yet, they are holy experiences indeed.  I feel like I know these people whose bodies we commit to their final resting place even though we often never met.  I know them by the things they leave behind.  And most often, what they leave behind are people who are changed for the better because of their presence in this world.

Funerals are often testimonies that witness to the power of love to change lives even when it is carried out in everyday actions.

Still.  When my oldest showed up to go eat dinner, I had nothing to give.   The best I could do was carry-in Indian food, which fortunately, he loves.  The best I could do in the way of shopping was Puma shoes online, which fortunately he enjoyed.   The best I could do for dessert was two pieces of pie from the bakery case at the Radio Cafe–about 25 steps from my back door.  Two because I hadn’t noticed he has become quite thin, so absorbed was I in other people’s pain.

He seemed to understand.  We rescheduled for a real shopping date on Wednesday.  I hope I am able to do better with him on that day.

Time will tell.  Monday and Tuesday I will take off my shoes and help families lay two more loved ones to rest.  The second is a war-hero who served in both the U.S. Army and the Marines and there will be a 21 gun salute.

Note to self:  keep Tuesday open to wring yourself out.

Note to self:  get groceries — make rich foods for Wednesday.

Note to self:  His name was Ronnie.  And we were blessed because he came.


  1. Thanks for mentioning the important things that we forget about funerals when we are buried in grief.


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