The funeral of an uncle in a family of faith is both a sad and yet a happy affair. With a strong belief in life continuing after exiting a mortal body, stepping through the veil it just one more event in our eternal progression.
We weep at the loss of contact, advise, laughter, touch, feel, smell and idiosyncrasies of our deceased loved one but not as a result of any thought that they are permanently lost. After all, the end of mortality is actually a graduation day. It is all part of the plan. Part of the process.
Family and friends gather at the funeral memorial to offer condolences, statements of love and to honor his life and good works.
In our community, a member or two of the family usually speaks at the funeral along with a church leader in an hour long program They offer memories and funny anecdotes from the life of the deceased, finishing with statements of faith and eternal plans of growth and life.
Then the transport of the body to the cemetery and its burial moves forward.
We line our cars in a funeral procession, light our headlights and slowly drive in a half-mile-long train winding our way through the city behind a slow hearse and police escort.
Well, normally …
I hear his voice in my head saying, “ Oh bother. More uncomfortable suits and ties. More flowers than any man could reasonably want or enjoy. More ceremony to appease the living …. Hey! (wink and chuckle) There are a lot of good looking women here.”
I laugh at the thought. His kids did make a lot of effort to remove some of formal stodginess out of the burial process. Except for his wife and daughter, the limos and motored procession of mourners is left at the cemetery gate to find their way to the grave on foot.
His body arrives in style in a caisson transport. The team pulling it could be better, but there aren’t many matched teams in use today, so you do the best you can.
The caisson is pure class though. White, beveled glass windows that sparkle, and here in the west, the top hat is replaced by a cowboy hat.
I verbally salute him, “You did it! This is cool! The Caddy body hauler is still parked in the garage where it belongs waiting to carry the fairer sex, not a manly man.”
His casket is borne by sons and grandsons to its final resting place and carefully set in place. The sons carefully escort their mother to her chair near the grave. They remove their boutonnieres and place them on the casket saying one last goodbye, briefly laying their hand on its finished surface before moving back to their own families so the proceedings can continue.
Everyone gathers close. The officiator nods to the Veteran detail and a 21-gun salute rings through the winter air. The commander of the local Veteran group is assisted by another member in carefully folding the flag that has covered their compatriot’s casket. They respectfully present it to the grieving widow.
The grave is dedicated by the officiator, who then thanks all for attending and finishes saying the family would like all to return to the church for a meal of funeral potatoes, ham, salad, green Jello with shredded carrots in it and red Kool-aid.
The family reunion slowly moves away to continue their conversations, well wishing and photo taking back at the church … but I stay … alone. I walk over to the city crew who will lower the casket and vault lid into the ground and tell them that they are burying my uncle. That I’ll stay and watch. That I have a great interest in the level of respect they afford his remains.
They look at me like I’m a little nuts, but my demeanor does not brook disbelief or misunderstanding.
Twenty minutes later, the pile of dirt is gone. It hasn’t even left a stain on the surrounding grass. The chairs and astroturf are gone. The noise of the backhoe has been silenced.
I stand by the effusive display of flowers and speak to my uncle. “Well, they got you here ok. I loved the caisson and 21-gun salute. Your grandkids enjoyed letting the flotilla of white balloons gain their freedom in the sky. Sorry about the flowers, but they won’t be here too long. Your body is safe and honorably buried. I’ll stop by later to make sure your headstone is well placed.”
I’ve missed the meal back at the church. That’s ok. My duty was at the grave. I’ll see the family another time.
A short three-step-stroll takes me to the graves of my grandparents. I nod and say “hello” … and … “I’ll be back in a second”. Three more steps take me to the graves of my great grandparents. I touch their stone and say “Hi” knowing that none of them are here listening. They are all talking to my uncle, catching up on events.
However, I grin knowing they’ll all glance my way and laugh … who can resist watching me do a cemetery soft shoe shuffle before I turn with final nod and wave as I start the hike back to my car..