Bugle Song

I hope it won’t trouble anyone if I tell you I love doing funerals. I don’t really know where we end up when we leave this life, but I believe in some grand theo-ecology in which everything we’ve learned, our essence, is not lost when our bodies give way to illness, accident or age.

I know it’s become fashionable to refer to a funeral as a Celebration of Life, and really I do when I’m writing a bulletin (unusual, by the way), but for me it’s the celebration of the new life to which the person has gone, a word of hope to those left behind, a reflection on the departed loved one intended to bring tears to those who have simply refused to shed them previously, a container for the sadness and the hopefulness that meld for those of us who believe we go on being, somehow.

Once when Pure Luck and I were visiting the little country cemetery where many of his people rest, I began reading the old stones, Victorian era markers with verses, and I began to weep at the sight of those hopes for reunion carved into stone.

Pure Luck, skeptical and non-theistic, doesn’t believe we go on to anything else. (He might be surprised how true that is for people who nominally believe in God, too.) I tell him I do, and he chuckles or makes that noise like Lurch on The Addams Family, the same noise my Daddy used to make. Then I tell him that either way, I win! If he’s right, neither of us will know any differently, but if not, we’ll be together and we’ll both know I was right. Therefore, I win.

I usually get a sad shake of the head in response to that little speech.

I still think I’m right.

Today I stood in the cemetery with the family of a man who died at 92, after a happy marriage of 68 years. His widow alternately cried and smiled. The service was much like others I have done, and you would think the words might lose something in the repetition. But on this day, I felt God’s power of reassurance in them, and I felt privileged to be speaking them. I shared in the reassurance that we are encompassed by God’s love in life and in death.

Military honors followed the graveside service. Surprisingly we had a live bugler rather than a soldier with a boom box and a tape. The young musician stood off at a distance and played "Taps," played it clearly, piercingly.

I remember my mother bursting into tears once when taking visitors to Arlington National Cemetery to see the Kennedy gravesite. A little ways down the hill, a soldier was being buried, and a bugler was playing "Taps." It brought up memories of her own father’s funeral, in another section at Arlington, fifteen years before. I believe I was surprised that a memory so old could make her cry that way. But I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. I did not understand.

Today while the young bugler played, I teared up at the thought of my mother, gone 14 years next week, gone–but where? What you believe and what I picture and what she came to consider likely may not be the same, but I do believe we’re going somewhere, somewhere as pure and clear as the bugle’s song, even if we cannot see it with our eyes.

13 thoughts on “Bugle Song”

  1. Of all the meticulously detailed narratives of Hell’s excruciating torments, and all the lengthy chronicles of Heaven’s spiritual and/or physical splendors not one was written by someone who had actually been there and was reporting back.

  2. YES
    With you in the absence of clarity re how and hwere and in the indefinable certainty too.
    But we won’t say “I told you so” to PL, because we’re such nice people 😉 xx

  3. When I went to my grandfather’s funeral 15 years ago, I had expected to be unmoved by the service. I went out of some sense of duty because my grandparents had taken me in when I was little and he was the only male parent I had ever known. It was a full military funeral, too, with a live bugler and a gun salute, and I found myself crying quite a bit during the service. In fact, I was emotionally shaken for some time afterwards, enough that it forced me to reexamine the ways in which I had understood my relationship with him. Even reading this description of the service you presided over got me choked up a little again.
    I have no idea what happens after we die, but I have learned to respect the rituals that we have in place to help us feel the profundity of that mystery.

  4. I don’t know where we go, but I am glad to hear of a Rev. who likes to lead funerals! It’s hard enough to ask someone to do a funeral for your family, without wondering how difficult it is for the people officiating.
    Take care, and have a Good Mother’s Day!

  5. Have you heard the one about funerals being the pastor’s favorite type of service?
    “The first person I baptised strayed from the fold. The first marriage I performed ended in divorce. But the first person I buried is still dead!”

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