Sunday, January 23, 2011


I was a pallbearer at my Grandmother's funeral this weekend. The director had to chase me down to attach my boutineer, because I was also involved in audio, video and music. There are many details in putting together any church service, and I usually have my fingers in most of them. It keeps me busy and slightly panicky, which is a state I apparently like.

There were last minute additions to the slide show and CDs coming in left and right. Funerals are always like this at the church – favorite songs to play, postlude music, videos of memories – always showing up in the sound booth ten minutes before the service. Being occupied kept my emotions at bay until I was supposed to sing my solo. This was helpful. I got through the song okay. I also led congregational music of Grandma's favorite songs.

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus
Just to take him at his word
Just to rest upon his promise
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord”

It seems like a funeral director would be really proficient at pinning on boutineers, but oh well. The thing had a pin that was sticking out a millimeter away from my jugular. Eventually it drew blood, which I guess was okay because I had on a red shirt. It hurt.

It hurt to watch my grandfather, in his unerring dignity, caress his wife's face one last time. It hurt to watch my mother and my aunt, and to try and imagine their loss. But mostly it just hurt to have a part of me missing, and to know it would never come back. It didn't feel like grief, or saying goodbye to a person. It felt like moving, packing up and leaving the house you grew up in, leaving behind a neighborhood full of friends. When you move you know you're heading for a new place, where you'll make new memories. But you just ache and ache for the memories you leave behind, and the rooms into which you can never again walk. That's what it felt like, as we drove to the graveside, with blood on my shirt.

We sang there under a tarp. Grandma's other favorite hymn.

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

The director hurriedly removed each or our boutineers, six carnations from six grandsons. We were maybe standing a foot away from each other, in utter silence, and yet he felt the need to mechanically repeat “please hold the flower and I will instruct you when to set it on the coffin” six identical times. A little reminder of the dehumanizing machinery of the “death industry.” The six of us walked past the casket, six of her grandkids all grown up to be men, and placed our flowers on top as a last goodbye. There was something profound and beautiful in that silent moment. Something dignified and holy, a reminder of the all we held in our hearts and all we would leave behind there buried in the grass.

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