Funerals Make You Think
Funerals make you think.
As you make plans to attend them. While you are in the middle of them. And even in the middle of the night long after the funeral is over. They make you think.
Jenni and I attended the funeral of her aunt this week in the Low Country. For those who don’t know the geography of South Carolina, the Low Country (in my mind) is what is below I-95 as it cuts its way across the entire state. It is made up of big oak trees, swamps, and people who talk so fast and differently that I generally have trouble understanding them. I often look to Jenni as my translator.
It was a four-hour drive, so there was plenty of time for thinking on the trip. The first requirement on a trip like this is a discussion of the last time we made this trip—that can sometimes take a good hour because there are always many side thoughts to go along with it. In this case, our “last time we drove this road” had just been in late February when we camped in several state parks. On that trip we worked in an afternoon visit with Jenni’s Aunt Ann and some of her family and for that we were now very thankful.
Aunt Ann was my mother-in-law’s sister-in-law. But that title is too cold and impersonal to accurately describe her, much less their relationship. The “in-law” would make you think it was a legal formality and there wasn’t a connection, but the truth is, short of a DNA connection, they could not have been any closer. Ann already had ten siblings, but my mother-in-law was a bonus sister to her and that is how they treated and loved each other.
During her funeral service the preacher made a simple little comment (preachers are good like that) about the way Ann was known for helping people and it opened a floodgate of thoughts and memories but one that dominated my mind was how good she was at sitting. She sat with people. When you stopped at her house, she sat with you. She talked and asked questions. She brought up times spent together and adventures shared (like when she and my mother-in-law drove from SC to where we lived in San Antonio—and she shopped and shopped until every member of her family had the perfect gift). But she did her best work when she sat with people in the hospital. When my father-in-law spent almost a month in an Atlanta hospital before he died; she sat with the family for most of that month. When my mother-in-law had an aortic blockage removed Ann not only sat with her but we credit her with saving my mother-in-law’s life when she recognized a medical emergency in the middle of the night. Thoughts come faster than words so I don’t think I missed much of the preacher’s message as I recalled those memories. I also thought how a good funeral, at least the Baptist ones, makes you think about your own relationship with God.
During the service, I thought about music. Ann’s daughter played the piano for the service and I’m not talking one song. This was full-blown prelude, three hymns, two solos, and postlude. And her mama smiled. But it made me think what songs would I want played at my funeral. A few years ago a friend from my church put together his own funeral playlist which included Dilly Dilly (remember that Bud Light advertising campaign several years ago?). It was certainly a first for our church. I thought Hymn of Promise and Here I Am, Lord might be more appropriate for my funeral. I ought to make a list, I thought.
At the graveside, the preacher reminded the people of Ann’s dislike of facial hair. She would often tell men sporting a beard they were ugly and offer to buy them a razor. And then the preacher wondered about her first time meeting Jesus and what she may have said about his facial hair and, through tears, we all laughed. That was a sweet thought.
The thoughts that come after a funeral come faster. They come in the middle of the night like a freight train. To get the full effect, you really need to try reading this next part as quickly as you can, in one breath, and just forgive me for any lack of proper transition. Ready? Inhale. Here goes:
I thought I would want you to know that Ann made mine and Jenni’s wedding cake and drove it four hours in the trunk of her car, resting on egg foam, before she assembled and iced the multiple layers at the church. It was the best pound cake you ever tasted, but hers always were.
She taught me the use of the phrase "to be sure not" and how to use it in a conversation such as when we told her we camp in an old plumbing van and she said "To be sure not"!
Just a few weeks ago she said she didn’t want any fuss for her 87th birthday but then said she might be mad if they didn’t make a fuss. I think Alzheimers is cruel.
They say she didn't want a fuss made over her funeral. She tried handling that by asking God to shut off the electricity in town for half an hour during the visitation the night before the service.
I thought about how for years she always asked me how my parents we doing even though she had only met them once. She told me she liked my mom and thought they could have been good friends. I don’t know how that mansion in heaven works with all those different rooms but somehow I think they might end up neighbors.
I thought about how she had three grown children but there would be other babies already waiting for her and crawling in her lap for a long-awaited cuddle. I thought about her eldest son who was the funeral director but had to allow himself to be on the receiving end of comfort at this time and hoped he would. And about another son who couldn’t attend because of illness and that made me feel sorry for him and recall my own father’s funeral and how COVID cheated my family and so many others across this world from being together for life-ending celebrations. I thought about speaking at my own mother’s funeral and how some people tried to persuade me it was risky but here Ann’s daughter played the piano for an entire service. I thought about the grief these three and their families would feel in the coming days and my heart broke for them.
And when I woke up, most of the thoughts I had were gone, and what you just read was all I had left. I felt disappointed because there were some really good thoughts that were now gone with the morning light.
But the best thought I had that morning was a reminder that, for Believers, the worst thing is never the last thing.
Rest in Peace, Ann Cooke.