I have been thinking a lot about death lately. It is that time of year. It started with a funeral.
An older friend of ours, from a town we used to live in, passed (as the old-timers say). To go to the funeral we had to drive a long way and miss a school day. A precious school day. You know one of those 180 days . . . But it was a good friend whose family was devastated and I love them so I decided we would go to the funeral – Emily, Andrew, Alex and me. It was going to be awkward because I haven’t really been to a lot of funerals. I was so busy raising my own children and being poor that I missed my last two grandparents’ funerals.
The kids were nervous too and not sure we should go. Were we invited? But, while I am not exactly up on the etiquette, going seemed the thing to do.
On the way there we talked about why we were going and they calmed down. And then we were there. We were almost late because of a traffic accident in front of us. We rushed into the funeral parlor and mistakenly sat in a side chapel where the family was sitting. We felt even more awkward. It was like one of those crazy, awkward Owen Wilson movies. We sat there and saw the family grieve and our hearts broke. They cried; we cried.
After the funeral we went to the graveside service. I had forgotten about the singing. The old-time, no-instrument kind. The harmony, the exuberance! To see those older people singing like that was shocking. I had forgotten that people used to sing like that. I realized I needed to remember – and my children needed to remember – that singing.
Afterwards, in the bright autumn sun we hugged and cried and laughed and visited. We were welcomed. It was good that we had gone. Love has requirements. We must keep them. Our children must keep them. Their children must too. The state requires 180 school days. Life requires much more.
I wanted to write this post a couple of weeks ago but I couldn’t because I was traveling and then I read this last week: Always go to the Funeral
If I had read it before I would have known right away that we should go to the funeral. I would not have worried so much or felt awkward. But we went and now we know: always go to the funeral. Modernity had almost stolen this from me and my children.
And now it is Halloween week followed by All Saints Day. I used to shun these holidays of death in favor of Reformation Day. I still celebrate the Reformation but no more do I shun death. I celebrate it. A world without death is a world without redemption. I am no longer afraid of Halloween or funerals. They are a part of the liturgy of life. They are the dark days that make the light ever so much brighter. Our enemy is real. We can not sanitize this truth. Our victory is sure. It is a real victory not a moral one.
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.