A time to mourn August 25, 2009Posted by markgeil in People.
I had something to say yesterday. It was a funny, even flippant story about cutting down a tree this weekend. Instead, I went to a funeral. Now I don’t feel like telling that story anymore.
Our neighbor Anita died a few days ago, along with her unborn son. Nobody is quite sure why. She was young and healthy, married with three kids already. Now she’s gone.
My eyes teared up so many times at the funeral yesterday. For some reason, I feel like writing them down. The first time was when I watched Greg, Anita’s husband. He walked down the aisle, and he looked strong. He was carrying their youngest child and was flanked by their 7- and 8-year olds. Really, they all looked strong, and so brave. At the end of the aisle was the casket, and by the time Greg reached it, everyone else had paid their respects. Then, as Greg watched, with Penny in his arms, the casket was closed.
We sometimes try to say that funerals are celebrations, and parts of them usually are, especially when we know as in Anita’s case that this is a passage to a far better place. Still,it’s physical, visceral moments of finality like this that make them so sad, no matter how much you try to celebrate. It was so hard to bear the sight of the casket closing. There will be memories, and photographs, and stories, but oh, the physical void left in passing.
A second moment: Greg and Anita’s oldest children, Ben and Julia, participated in the service. Julia sang a beautiful song, Mercy Said No, and played the piano. She was radiant. Then Ben walked up to the stage. The microphone was adjusted to his 8-year-old frame. He held a folded sheet of paper, and he spoke, clearly and calmly. “These were some of my mom’s favorite verses.” I marveled at a child so small, so brave, experiencing something no child should have to experience. He read verses about comfort that were so fitting. I prayed the verses back for him.
A third moment: Throughout the funeral, Julia, the seven year old, had the face of someone leaning toward the celebration instead of the grieving. She smiled sometimes. You could tell she was not oblivious to the circumstance, but she exuded peace. In fact, she was a comforting presence that ministered to a room full of people many times her age. Later, at the graveside, she stepped out of the white limousine, the hardest of rides. She sat in a chair covered in velvet, under a tent, as the casket was placed above the grave. Her smile faded. Her bottom lip quivered. She rested her head on her father’s shoulder, and quietly mourned.
A final moment: Little Penny would not leave Greg’s arms all day. Even at the reception, in the receiving line, though many offered to take her, she wanted nothing to do with anyone but her father. She is too young to understand how her life has been forever changed, but she is old enough to know that something is missing. I hugged Greg, and through tears I told him how proud I was of his children. Inexplicably, Penny reached out her arm and touched my shoulder. She said, “Mama. Mama.” And then she started to cry.