Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Writing and Funerals

This morning I'm going to a funeral for a woman I've known for many years. We weren't close friends, but we spent time together across a bridge table, at gatherings for the Czech students we both hosted, and at Board meetings of a community group. I admired her commitment to all the organizations she belonged to, the exchange students she hosted, and her willingness to travel on her own after her husband died. She passed away less than a month after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.

Attending funerals can be a sad way to spend a day, but sometimes it becomes more uplifting than depressing. I attended one such funeral several years ago, and when I came home, I had to write about it--my way of dealing with many things. The short essay was published at an ezine called 2TheHeart. The essay "To Celebrate A Life" is below. I'm hoping today's funeral will also be a celebration of life.

"To Celebrate A Life"

My heart was heavy as I entered the church for a funeral this morning, quietly greeted friends in the foyer, then moved on with my companion to an empty seat. The dim interior of the large sanctuary was a sharp contrast to the glorious sunshine and clear blue sky outside. Birds trilled in trees fragrant with the blossoms of spring. Saturday morning traffic moved rapidly down the street toward the mall, drivers unaware of the mourners inside the big church on the corner.

The casket rested in front of the altar surrounded by baskets and sprays of flowers. Jake's large family filed into the section reserved for them as the organist played. I watched as a large, bearded man moved to sit near the organist, an unusual instrument in his hand. He settled into the seat and turned to the pulpit, as did the rest of us when the minister began to speak.

"I'm here to honor the requests of this fine man who fought hard in his battle with cancer. We had many visits these past months, and he asked me to do three things in this service. First, he asked that the service not be sad. Make it a celebration of life, he said. Second, he told me to keep it short. And I shall do so."

The pastor recited many warm and humorous anecdotes that illustrated the exemplary life of the deceased. He captured the wisdom and kindness of the man, while family and friends listened intently. Hymns were sung, scripture read, and prayers said. It was truly a celebration. Throughout the service, the sadness I was feeling lessened more and more, and I found myself smiling rather than crying.

Finally, the clergyman leaned forward as he said, "And now, for that third request. Jake asked if bagpipes could be played in church."

All eyes watched as the bearded man in front stood, lifted his bagpipes and played "Amazing Grace" with sweetness and skill and a depth of feeling that reverberated throughout the sanctuary. The great organ accompanied him but only as a background. Red cords and ribbons fluttered from the pipes as the music filled our hearts and souls. A memorable farewell tribute to a man, who was well known in our community and deeply loved by his family and many friends.

My feet carried me swiftly to the doors of the church. My heavy heart had lightened considerably inside the church. I was eager to reach the fresh spring morning air, in a hurry to see the azure sky and hear the birds again. We had done more than mourn a man's passing this morning. We had celebrated his living, and, suddenly, I could not wait to see God's beautiful world once again - evidence that life does, indeed, go on.

Nancy Julien Kopp © April 2001

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