The first funeral that a child is allowed to attend is really an important event in understanding life. It means that they are deemed old enough to face the cold hard facts about death at life’s end, something which none of us can avoid. If properly prepared and taught to believe in the power of God’s love, however, they will also understand it to be the beginning of something much better, eternal life.
Some families are able to hold a large and festive event of celebrating a life while others, due to limited resources, don’t have this capability. So I thought we could take a look at both the funeral and final rites of someone with resources abundant as well as someone of limited means. The reason is to show that a respectful and memorable event can be held to match either situation if proper funeral planning has been done and organizations like Shared Sorrows can help you make it happen in either case.
This week we will look at the more elaborate, the funeral of a physician of means. Next week we will visit a funeral for a man of lesser means, showing how big and elaborate final rites are not always necessary to show the love and respect that those left behind have for the deceased. In both cases, they were good and honest men respected for the way they lived their life, and the stories will be presented from the viewpoint of a child. Children always pick up on the things that we adults sometimes miss and they are also very honest and open.
I hope you get something of value to think about out of both messages.
The little boy was dressed up and ready to go. He had never been to a funeral before but now, at age eight, his parents thought it was time for him to understand more about death and how it is a part of God’s plan for each of us. After all, he attended church and Sunday school and knew about Jesus’ death, so they thought it would be appropriate as part of the explanation of eternal life about which he had asked questions recently.
“Come on, Johnny, let’s go. They aren’t going to wait for us at the church”, said Susan Watkins, his mother.
“Here I come, Mom”, he replied, “I feel dumb in this suit and tie.”
As he came down the stairs Susan just smiled and told him how handsome he looked. This was his first suit and she knew he would come to appreciate dress clothes as he grew.
Mom, Dad and Patrick Watkins, husband and father, hurried to the car and they were off to the Methodist Church in town. They were on their way to the funeral for Patrick’s good friend and Johnny’s Godfather, Sam Swanson, who had died suddenly of a heart attack. Patrick had taken his good friend’s death hard on the first day after he heard the news but he was composed now. He was, however, a little bit worried about Johnny since he was close with his friend and didn’t totally understand all that was happening.
As they arrived at the pretty white clapboard church with the red brick addition and the tall bell tower, a crowd was streaming into the church. Sam was the Town of Prosperity’s only general practice physician and everyone knew him and liked him, especially the children who called him Doctor Sam because he could make them laugh even when receiving a shot. He just had the type of personality that people liked to be around.
The church was decked out in beautiful flowers including lilies, white roses, and gladiolas creating a wonderful scent in the air. Each pew had a red ribbon attached to the end, a color that was Sam’s favorite. Even the pastor was in his finest purple and gold ministerial robe, something he didn’t always wear. Sam liked formality at church as a sign of reverence to God.
Johnny and his parents were escorted to the third row behind Sam’s family reserved for close friends. While Susan and Johnny took their seats, Patrick took a brief moment to walk up to the first pew and offer a quick hug and hand to Sam’s wife Ellen. She nodded through her black mourning veil and made a courageous attempt to smile. The words thank you could be read on her lips.
The service was formal and quick with Pastor Heflin offering words of praise for Sam while speaking of the Glory of Heaven and the salvation that comes to believers upon earthly death. He pointed out that Sam was a man of few words but many short jokes and he followed that lead in his remarks. Before closing he also told a childhood story about Sam’s youth which added a cheerful touch. Even Johnny laughed when he learned that Dr. Sam wasn’t a perfect kid; he was actually quite mischievous.
From the church, most of the attendees joined the procession to Evening Shade Cemetery where Sam was being buried in one of the block of plots that had been in the Swanson family for years. The cemetery was over one hundred years old and the history of Prosperity was told in the names of the deceased on the tombstones who built the town from scratch. Sam’s marked plot had room for one other person, his wife Ellen, when the time came for her to be called home. Their children were grown and had moved far away.
The canopy covered seating was semi-circular around the beautiful cherry casket with brass fittings. It was atop a stand with the sides and ground covered so that no sign of the actual soon-to-be occupied grave could be seen.
Beautiful lilies adorned the area, offering a wonderful contrast with their dark green stems. Three little doves were contained in a gold container beside the casket, cooing as if saying their last goodbyes to Sam, who had raised them.
After the final remarks, many passed by the casket saying their last goodbyes. Little Johnny was given a single white rose which he lovingly placed on the casket, at long last crying as he realized the finality of his favorite man in the world next to his dad. As they walked toward the car, Johnny looked back and said a little prayer for his good friend, Dr. Sam.
Johnny’s eyes brightened when he saw his friend, Will Spencer, who had been seated several rows back with his parents. Will and his dad were having a mild argument as Will didn’t want to go to the reception saying it made him sad.
John Spencer looked at Johnny and his dad and said, “Johnny, do you want to go to the Doc’s house or would you rather come with Will. His big sister is home and you could both stay with her while we adults go to the reception.”
Johnny looked at his parents, received a nod in response, and smiled broadly saying, “You don’t think Mrs. Swanson will mind, do you, Dad? I certainly don’t want to upset her but I don’t want to be sad anymore.”
“Oh, I think she’ll understand and approve”, was the reply.
That settled it. Johnny was off with Will. The Spencer’s would drop the boys off and then go to the reception.
Back at Will’s house, the boys talked about the funeral since it was their first. They realized that it was a sign that their parents thought they were old enough to handle one of the toughest things in life by being allowed to attend. But they also knew that young boys had a long life ahead and they weren’t ready to be adults anytime soon.
While enjoying a movie in the den, the doorbell suddenly rang. A truck from Hometown Caterers was there and they jumped up immediately and followed Will’s sister to the door. A big man with a bigger smile was waiting patiently. He had a huge delivery bag in his hand.
As the door opened he said, “Hi, kids, I’m Hank from Hometown Caterers. We are handling the food for the reception at Dr. Swanson’s home, may he rest in peace. Mrs. Swanson thought you guys might enjoy some of the food. It’s really good”.
All three thanked him, bid him goodbye, and took the bag to the kitchen table where they eagerly opened it. In it were fancy party sandwiches, meatballs and cocktail sausages, cheese and crackers, small individual cakes and packets of fresh fruit and baked goods. What a feast and they stuffed themselves.
Later, when the adults returned and Johnny said his goodbyes and headed home with his parents, Patrick asked him, “Son, did you learn anything from your experience today? Is there something you would like to share with us?”
Johnny pondered for a moment and said, “Well, Mom and Dad, I learned that Mrs. Swanson and a lot of other people loved Doc Swanson. They gave him quite a goodbye today. And I think all of that was because they knew he would be going home to God. And they sure did give him a good goodbye part. Don’t you think so, Dad?”
Patrick and Susan both smiled, knowing that they had made the right decision in including him in attendance at the funeral and responded, “Absolutely, Son, absolutely.”
A young boy learns something important about life and all who attended the good Doctor’s funeral will remember it clearly as a sign of love and respect. What a fitting way to end a good man’s life. Don’t you want to be remembered fondly yourself when your days or done? As we’ll learn more next week, it’s not the size or the exquisite nature of the funeral that counts; it’s the love and devotion that accomplishes the desired result.
Have a great week and remember Him who brought you here and God bless America.
Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark: Selected as a Best Read for 2014 by American Pet Magazine