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.