Recently, while having breakfast with three friends, the subject of funerals came up. Each man was a Christian minister and had some unique and insightful things to say about this, sometimes morbid, subject. The reason the subject surfaced is because Mike has had a 47 year career as a funeral director. He has spent his career ministering to families in the loss of loved ones and has seen every aspect of the end of life.
Mike explained to us the tedious nature with which he demands that he and his staff deal with the families and care for the body of the deceased. He is always deeply concerned for the family and gets personally involved in their stories as they recall their loved one’s life.
One particular family explained that their grandmother had been in a nursing home and they had, more or less, lost connection with her. Some pieces of her life came into focus as they tried desperately and regrettably to remember and honor her eulogy. Meanwhile, Mike received grandmother’s Bible and this would bring a focus that the family needed.
Mike, also being an ordained minister, performed the funeral. After other members of the family spoke and struggled with the memories, he rose with the loving grandmother’s Bible in hand. He told the family that they may have forgotten about grandmother, but she never forgot about them. Her Bible was marked on every page with comments and in the fly sheets she mentioned each of her children and grandchildren and how she prayed daily for them by name and loved them so much. She mentioned their specific goals in life and recorded her prayers for these.
He said it was one of his most emotional moments of his career as it was impossible to complete the service without shedding tears for this beloved lady.
On the lighter side, Mike told us of a special young man that he trained to be a mortician. Ezra had the same heart of compassion for people that his boss has. Ezra learned the trade well and Mike has been so proud of him through the years as he has seen a duplication of himself in Ezra.
He says, “I never have had a complaint about Ezra. Everyone loves him and he cares so deeply for the families.” Mike said, “There’s just one thing that’s kind of strange. He is a big Madonna fan.” This led to the only blip on Ezra’s career when he was first learning the business.
A Catholic family had lost their dear mother. Ezra was listening to their story and learning about the life of the deceased lady. When they told him that mother loved The Madonna, Ezra burst out into a gleeful, “O, that is great! I do too! I just returned from one of her concerts!”
When Mike received this news, he was truly concerned that they had been greatly offended. But, no. Not even this honest mistake dampened the family’s fondness of Ezra because of his concern for them. It was simply a hard lesson for this young man to learn the difference between The Madonna and Madonna. We live and learn!
Larry has officiated many funerals as a minister of the Gospel. One time the son had died and the mother was so very distraught. During the service, as everyone passes the casket to get one final look at the deceased, the mother literally climbed into the casket to be as close as she could to her son.
The funeral director said, “You are the minister here. You need to get her out of there.” So Larry gently, but firmly, explained that she had to pull herself together and climb back out of the casket. Slowly she agreed and Larry helped her down and consoled her as they walked down the aisle together toward her seat. About halfway there, she whirled around and bolted back to the casket. Yep, back into it and clinging to her son’s dead body.
It was Larry’s opportunity next. Turning to the funeral director he said, “You are the funeral director. It’s your turn to get her out.” Sometimes you just have to pass the buck!
Bill, on the other hand, had a personal story of his own family’s experience. Bill’s dad had been a career Navy officer. Before he retired the Navy had allowed Navy veterans’ ashes to be cast off the back of a ship into the ocean. The rules changed, however, and when his dad was cremated this wish could not be granted.
Instead he enjoyed a new life with his wife, Bill’s mom. She carried his urn, full with his ashes, with her wherever she went for the next two years. They would take road trips and she would strap him in the front seat beside her with the seat belt. Off they would go to enjoy this next phase of married life. She would call Bill from various places and inform him where “me and dad” were currently. This continued for two full years until his mother passed also.
Bill’s family had her cremated also, placed both remains in a water soluble container and set it adrift in a river. It wasn’t long before it sank and the double funeral was over. You know, sometimes you just have to move on in life.
Death is certainly part of life and living. The compassion must accompany the situation, but the humorous surfaces sometimes also. We must remember that our loved ones are not in that empty corpse any longer and what is most important is where that person is now and for eternity.
Live life to the fullest, putting the important things in perspective. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” He also said, “I go to prepare a place for you…I will come again and take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”