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She did not know why she was supposed to attend. She just knew she must. She had a feeling. This in spite of not liking funerals and generally boycotting them. For over a decade, funerals had served as painful reminders of the premature loss of her own parents. One to heart disease. The other to mental illness. These deaths consequently led to the temporary breach of sibling relations and to the violation of trust. This loomed gravely in fearful foiyers with each and every funeral attended. But she went. She drove many miles. She walked in….alone.
Just inside the chapel doors that say, “Shh! Be still” was a promised, predictable, programmed palm born service. A tried and true testimony agenda awaiting among psalms and assurances of exclusivity in OUR GOD is greater. This would likely come forth among one and only witnessing. Peace and promises to and for the righteous. Suit and tie wearing, card carrying men, lovely, modestly skirted women sitting still, silent, doing their duty. The chaste, the goal setting, the upwardly mobile, the traditional family types. The retired, hanging on to grandkids with a death grip, while contemplating couple missions.
Smiling men and women wearing inner city missionary tags. Knowing people knowing their places, and others’ places, well versed in patriarchy. Set and secure. Set apart in callings, sitting at Jesus’ feet, hard paving Baptism Street.
In their self righteous minds this scene would be quite a find in missionary terms. BUT, this thinking was not this crowd. In a small part maybe. Largely though, this thinking, regardless the subject audience, was simply not this thing. This thinking was wrong in twisted stereotypes, in cynicism. She needed a kinder, gentler view. She was over thinking this from a place of personal non-acceptance and friendlessness. She search faces for someone to sit by. For someone.
The view she had was one of disparity. The funeral setting was incongruent with its characters. This much was true. A provident tithing paid-for LDS building, trimmed with modest, beautifully arranged funeral flowers, smelling lovely and fragrant in rose reds and foliage and a familiar cousin’s fragrance.
She forewent a wait and turn at the longhand sign in. She went straight way to a pew just past the registry book. At the book were huge shadows in haunched fathers and same sized sons scratching John Henrys. Treatments and eighties style halls. Bathrooms cleaned dutifully last Friday night by members. Promised relief after a long canyon drive. Relief Society scurrying sisters with hot pad hands, brows furrowed in focus and quick steps from kitchen to tables, making lunch preparations in the gymnasium. Directions to the chapel, restroom, smiles.
This was all very simple, conservative, Utah, Happy Valley, Mormon. However, this was not a BYU family ward, or Celestial room. The chapel scene was quite a contrast. It was a semi-full gathering of humble, trailer park, grieving friends and family. Those claiming the deceased looked the type that stopped at rest areas, more ready to play Keno or Blackjack in Wendover, or hit the Chain Smoker Buffet than be here in this instant make shift, get-up- and-go-to-church mode. A crowd more apt to rub shoulders on an episode of Duck Dynasty goes to Good Will.
When she pulled into the parking lot, men were laboring in rehearsing how to tuck in shirts. Some were more familiar with popping a can of Bud Light on the bank of Rockport State Park, rod and reeling, tieing a fly on Sunday, than tieing a tie, or cynching a belt and zipping a fly. More apt to crawling like crawdads in the muck and mire in a combat style Mud Run. This done with long pony tails caked and muddy hair, or shaved crack heads. This done with true grit and tears. With not enough teeth for a bite stick for pain. Not enough teeth, rotten or otherwise to fill the role of holy and religious white strips in white baptismal clothing at a mass baptism on the shores of Rockport by the boat launch. Broken Hallelujahs.
She wondered if this were a brutal size up…..if she should shove off this thinking. After all, these were children of God…..grieving. These were “what you see is what you get” kind of folkes. Honest. Genuine. They were holier than the Pharisies before to mentioned. The people in this room were the very people one would find Jesus with. This was Orem, Utah….just a few blocks from Gold’s Gym. Could have just as easily been the shores of Galilee, or somewhere inner city, anywhere.
Looks are deceiving. Who can know the heart but Jesus? She tried as she opened her vessel. The sounding Samsug Galaxy, new heart and soul in a no contract smart phone plan, needing wisdom. Her small too often enlarged congenitally foolish virgin lamp flickered hungrily inside. She awaited the Bridegroom in this quiet, half lit room, seeking an application for holy…. Android wondering if the spirit of the deceased or of others were near. Were they leaning into thin, white gauzy curtains, peaking and parting, playing chicken at the veil? Were they near? She could not see them. She could feel them though…with tears rolling down her aging child face.
A smiling cousin to her left offered a tissue.
“Thank you…..I kind of like it…the crying that is,” she assured. Cousin smiled.
A native American girl who professed to have known the deceased through gaming, played a flute solo that sometimes resembled a song from The Lion King between squeaks and start overs. There was no judgement or breath holding on the part of the audience. The chapel breathed grief and gratitude. In preface, she had said it was one of her friend’s favorites. Odd to hear this show tune in a church setting. At the end everyone on the front benches clapped. Not normal LDS protocol. It did not matter. This was refreshing. She loved the novelty, the different. Still, many in the back rows looked on in wonder and silence with still, quiet hands….willing the feeling to either linger or pass.
A man who was the mother of the deceased’s Bishop stood conducting and announced the next speaker, a sister. Her name was Lori. She had no script or purse. She loosened heart strings and told a story of a chronically ill brother, who had not held a job in likely years, who received social services, and who at the end came to live with her and her children. In spite of what he did not have, the deceased had been uncharacteristically happy, and could energize and fill the room with his presence in spite of being small, skinny and frail. He was not a church goer, but when he did attend, he made a big impression in the honest, tender words he shared. This left regulars asking, “Who was he?” Wanting to know and asking to be friends with him.
For thirty-five years, this man’s heart beat loudly and largely while he was alive living out congenital heart failure. He was continually giving away something to someone, including time and possessions. New things were slippery. In hand one day, given away to another the next. He was not especially talented, but he gave. To his nieces and nephews he gave smiles, kind words, encouragement. At the end he found God and Jesus again in church and in scriptures and even preached to his non-compliant sister. In spite of life and world failings he was a rich man in spirit. He loved greatly and he was greatly loved. Sometimes being poor in health or poor in spirit does this thing to a person…..brings one down to what is most important.
Reference was made to getting handouts from the Food Bank, to being a horrible speller, but prolific writer of letters to loved ones in the military and abroad, in spite of deficits, and near illegibility. Mention was made of making five dollar bets with his nephews over Sunday and Monday Night football games, of getting rowdy and throwing chairs and things off the roof to a wood pile.
He joyed in the memory of hours watching the kids play Zelda and letting them win. A story was shared from a laptop computer written by the deceased’s sister’s nine year old niece. She spoke of a prize stuffed animal he had given to her which she would forever cherish. Of a trip to California to attend live the Price is Right. Of the cut off being the people before them in line, but being grateful and gracious just to be there…..even in waiting in line.
A close family friend told of a crazy raft trip down the lower Provo River on a tiny doughnut spare inner tube that was too small for even a child to ride, much less a grown man. How one day as they floated together, the deceased slipped off or through the tube in launching off a large boulder amid white water. He disappeared for fifty feet or so before popping up in sputtering laughter to say, “Let’s do it again!” Such was his happy, care-free in the moment approach to living a happy, simple life.
Even though she had never met this relative, and had not even seen his picture, she enjoyed hearing funeral stories through tender narrative introductions.
The program continued in the deceased’s father sharing a few words. He was a tall, thin man who resembled Mark Twain in tan skin and a mustache and shock of white hair. While he lacked Twain’s pragmatism, the confession that he had not spoken in front of people since he was twelve years old, was accepted kindly. A nice disclaimer. The man appeared to be retirement age or older. He was soft spoken and could barely be heard.
He did the audience the favor of explaining what had led up to the death, stories of tests and doctors’ visits and hopeful news and then the next day sudden loss. He confessed having found his son’s dead body. This is not an easy thing….to be the first to find a horrible tragedy. To admit finality in spite of emotion and desire for it to not be reality. Difficult. Wanting to deny this thing and wish things to be different…for a loved one and life to NOT BE altered and over. Not natural for a child to die first. She wanted to hug this man.
A younger brother of the dead, who looked like a Harley rider with long hair spoke next. He was from out of town. The news had come suddenly. He had dropped everything to travel a great distance, as one does in this situation. Suddenly every day things of large and small proportion became catapulted into the great beyond, the unknown. Routines, habits, wants became instantly…..unimportant in light of life and death, mortality’s capricious meanings. Regrets sneak into the psyche and play mind games.
The brother mostly spoke of how he had “a feeling” to write one day. The muse had come. Later he supplied an explanation and reason. Someone had tapped him. When he turned to see who that someone had been, and who had gotten his attention, there no one was “there.” He then read a beautiful versed poem that referred to death and rest in lieing down on green, cool grass. The rhyme alluded to spring coming, Psalms, and green pastures. It felt advocative, and full of hope and peaceful pleading, like the Lord’s prayer. She thought these should be lyrics to a song meant to be played on sacred Sirius. After the memorial she told him his poetry was beautiful, that his words of inspiration were meant to be set to music. Left the suggestion to simmer.
Then an aunt of the deceased spoke. She was commanding, very LDS, and wanting everyone to notice. The feeling changed momentarily, starkly, in shifting from sorrow and empathy toward extended family and loud magpie in this imposter. Her mouth was moving, moving, moving. The lip sync was off though. The message sounded more like “Look at me!” until all that could be heard was insecurity and self affirmation. This was wrong and bizarre. Perhaps she had volunteered to help her sister somehow. It was not all that helpful at first.
Then when all was nearly lost to a crowd no longer listening, she shifted gears and redeemed herself a bit in relaying her own near death experience. This she did in ways X to the third power in how she nearly died last Christmas. By profession she had once worked as a nurse. Chronologically, she had battled diverticulitis for years. Then, her bowel ruptured last winter.
The doctor relayed poor odds of survival without an intrusive surgery. The odds of survival of the surgery were not favorable. The doctor asked, “Are you a gambler?” The bold aunt of the deceased, who overly loves 35 grandchildren, and lives to play Mother Christmas said,” No! I’m not a gambler…. but I will be. I am Christmas! Christmas there will be. I want to live!” By some miracle the woman survived and Christmas was preserved on the bright lit faces of Cache Valley grandchildren. Her message was one of hope and miracles, and belief, although somewhat divergent.
Finally a handsome cookie cutter Bishop of the deceased’s mother gave comment. He was kind. Spoke peace in conventional conviction and belief in God’s Plan of Salvation. After this offering, someone prayed and friends and family reconvened in the Cultural Hall over hot ham, funeral potatoes, salad, rolls, and desert. New introductions and re associations with cousins was feast and treat enough.
The self appointed caller cousin whom she sat by, arranged an introduction to the estranged, unknown cousin named Kristi. This was the sad mother of the dead boy. Then there was a line to get to this woman. Her eyes were puffy from mourning the loss of her precious boy. Then the two stepped toward each other.
“Hello, I may not have ever met you, Kristy. I’m….”
“Heidi,” she said.
In an unbelievable remembering way, that seemed simply impossible…Heidi became speechless.
Neither had ever met before in this lifetime. So how was this possible? It was not possible and yet it was.
Their fathers had been brothers. Both had been artist’s by trade and passion. Neither boy was close or friendly with the other in life. They shared more of a grudge driven artsy competition. No longer though. Now she suspected they were contemporaries, companions. Master artists no longer up in arms with each other, but rather, arm in arm, having stripped themselves of pride and painted a new scene more kind and inclusive. Loving. Operating a heavenly canvas together in tandem creating….Master peaces.
She stood there a bit stunned. Wondering……This is perhaps what it may be like to pass into Heaven. Perhaps a bit surprised in being allowed in. Yes. Then, surprised to hear someone call your name. To look them in the eye. To see a light and to remember a sacred loving connection. To feel loved, remembered, and accepted. Some moments in this life approach this joy and love. They come close. Void the angelic singing voices, the more glorious light, the Celestial surroundings.
Sometime though, we feel a little of the hailing, the warmth and hand waving, the jumping for joy, the familiarity in the greatest of reunions. She thought of the reunion she would share with her Italian son in a year. She thought of cousin Kristy and her fallen son, now raised up in Jesus. Sons.
She thought it strange, that even though she often forgets who she is, and even believes that others have forgotten, or do not know or even care to know…that a stranger would remember her name.
Circumstances, pain, trials, burdens, true motives, hidden dreams and desires of the heart, remain largely hidden and misunderstood by one another. She thought….we are most often wrong in our seeing, in our hearing, and in our feeling. We are poor judges and keepers of one another. What if this were not true?
She sat down next to the caller communicator cousin. To her left sat a Ziploc baggy of soil and a package of bleeding heart seed. She touched it. Thought it very curious. Sat down. Then Kristi came over, picked up the item and said, “I was going to sit with you cousins, but then I thought I should go sit with my kids.”
This is when she should have made an excuse, excused herself and followed Kristi to the other table with most immediate kids and family. But she did not. She missed the cue. A shame.
After the fact, she thought redemption in order. She must most certainly call or send a card. Through the haze of years, of forgetting, through the grief of her own tremendous loss, Kristi, the mother of the dead, had remembered someone she had no cause to remember. No reason really at all. An yet, she had remembered. Remarkable…..and all she could say is, “Hello, you probably don’t know me…..I’m…..I’m really sorry for the loss of your son.”
In a day or two when is is quiet and the out-of-town company is gone, and the emptiness and longing for a passed on son settles in…..the grieving mother will be more lonely in being left more alone with her thoughts. A call or card will be appreciated. Yes.
In the mean time, she hears her call the name, “Heidi.” And again, “Heidi.”
This almost resounds the ominous calling of“Simba,” by Mufasa from one Lion King to another Lion King, a favorite Disney animation of my own son when he was a tiny tot. A flute solo loops and resumes its playing.
From the stars of a night sky, from among the ancient fathers and mothers who have long since passed on into the eternities. It calls to us to remember one another. It calls us to remember the one lost lamb, and to remember who we are in finding our place in the circle of life.
This is what happened with Kristi some ten or twenty years ago. The caller cousin found Kristi in the depths of despair barely hanging on, stripped of dignity, home, surviving abuse, a divorce and utter loneliness. Caller cousin found a random address, drove there, knocked on the door……..
And it was opened unto her. Kristi was the one lost lamb. She was found. Her life changed forever in the love of a cousin.
“Did somebody die?” Kristi asked back then.
“No, honey. We are your cousins. We came to find you. We love you,” caller cousin had said.
She had not heard this story until today. This was a miracle.
Our Shepherd asks us to seek Him and to feed His sheep. We will find ourself and our place in this world, as we remember our Father in the Heavens. We will see our own reflection as we reflect on God and His son. As we seek His word, as we do His work, as we abide still waters, listening for a still, small voice we can know what path to walk.
This was no ordinary funeral, but it was a stick to the head that leaves ears ringing and eyes seeing stars for some time.