the most ominous occasion i’ve ever been to

Someone else should have preached that funeral. The 86-year-old pastor who either didn’t know my aunt Ruby or was too concerned with the heat to care about her should never have been the one officiating her send off. His message was void of feeling, references to who my aunt was, or any kind of concern for the lives and souls of those within hearing distance of his voice. I’d never been to a funeral like that before in my life. It took place behind the small church in Kentucky in the parking lot off to the side under some trees. The shade helped a little but the 90 degree weather was treacherous. (Her family couldn’t afford a funeral home service. And we couldn’t do it grave side because the cemetery was on a very steep hill, too steep for most of us to climb.)

Her granddaughter read a letter, my cousin Madelyn read a poem, then the preacher read the typical verses you would read at a funeral, broke a flower, and did the ashes to ashes thing with the flower pedals over the coffin that was just sitting on the pavement. Then we watched as the pallbearers carried her up the steep hill, wrapped plastic around the coffin, wound straps around it, then clumsily lowered her into the grave that had just been dug maybe an hour before. All were quiet while they carried her up the hill and lowered her in the grave, except for the 86-year-old (clearly deaf) pastor who carried on a loud conversation about the hot weather with one of my uncles…whose sister was being buried. (Some old preachers just need to retire!!!)

It was one of the most ominous occasions I’ve ever been to. I’ve been to lots of family funerals but this one was actually sad. Not because of the death of the loved one, obviously that bit is sad, but because the service was just so quiet and devoid of feeling. Almost as if God wasn’t there. I know He was there…but you couldn’t have known that by the demeanor of the preacher.

Luckily, my family–for all it’s faults and fights–really know how to band together during times of pain. Family I had not seen in 20 years or so talked to me as if they’d seen me every day of my life. And everyone got together and sat around during the visitation, either on the porch of the funeral home or in the room where my aunt was laid out, telling stories. It’s that community and closeness we can have with one another that make days like that bearable.

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