Mar 7, 2010

Life Lessons from a Funeral Home

It's strange, the things you notice when you're sitting in a funeral home. And the things you try desperately not to notice. Like the way the organ music crackles in the speakers, or how the chairs are colored in cheerful peach floral patterns, as if to make you forget the reason you're sitting there in the first place.

The mind of a child is a fascinating thing. Although my grandfather died when I was five, I don't remember much about his death except being convinced at the funeral that he was only sleeping. My cousin and I took turns walking past the open casket before the service, watching for his eyes to flutter open or his chest to rise in a quick breath. But he never woke up. I remember the ten-gun salute by his grave, commemorating his service to our country in World War II. I still have a few of the bullet shells that I picked up from the grass before we went home that day.

Two years later, when my cousin was killed in a camping accident, I remember walking into my aunt's house and seeing his twin brother sitting at the piano, playing "How Great Thou Art" and crying. I can still hear the sound of my aunt's sobs as my mom hugged her and they cried together, gathering strength from each other as they mourned the loss of a child. I remember wearing a yellow dress to the funeral, because my mom told me that we should be happy that my cousin was in heaven now with Jesus, and I thought it was a cheerful color. I remember the faces of the hundreds of people who attended his funeral. The EMT's who had responded to the 911 call that night had sat at a table by themselves at lunch following the service. I remember the tears in their eyes as members of our family walked up to them one by one and thanked them for trying to save his life.

I remember the first time I went to a funeral home and understood the finality of death. I was ten years old, and my grandmother had died on my birthday a few days earlier. I remember the way my dad put his arm around my mom as they walked into the viewing room together. It frightened me a little to see my mother cry. My mom, the tower of strength in our family, whose response to most occurrences was to shrug and say, "That's life." As I sat in the back of the room and watched her go forward to say goodbye to her mother, I realized for the first time that someday I, too, would have to say goodbye to my mom. And it was that realization, even more than saying goodbye to my grandmother, that made me cry. It was my first real taste of what death really meant.

My perception of death has changed over the years. In my young innocence as a child, I accepted it as part of life, believing with all my heart that I would see my loved ones in Heaven someday. As I grew older, that faith became shaken as I developed the need to see how everything would work out, rather than trusting in the faith that had held me strong as a child. Four more family members died. Two of them were solid Christians and believe firmly in Jesus Christ; I know that someday I will be reunited with them in Heaven. The other two were raised in Christian homes and professed to have faith, but did not walk with God. It was hard for me to accept the fact that I may never see them again. Even harder to think that they may spend the rest of eternity in hell because of the choices they made. But I think the hardest part has been not knowing for sure. It is possible that during the last few moments of their life, they cried out to Jesus and asked Him back into their hearts. It is also possible that their hearts remained hardened until the very end. This is one of the mysteries that I will never know the answer to until I die.

I have come to realize that there is death all around us, but that most people choose to ignore it. There is more than the physical death of a person. Death exists in shattered homes, broken relationships, forgotten dreams, unkind words, ignored hopes . . . things that can cause our souls to die just a little. It is almost just as tragic to ignore this type of death as it is to dwell on it.

The saying goes that people either see the glass as half empty or half full. In fact, this is often a question asked in interviews to determine your personality and whether you are a positive or negative person. The truth is, neither one of these options is great. If you choose to view the glass as half empty, you go through life depressed, ignoring the fact that you still have half a glass of water left. If you choose to view the glass as half full, you ignore the fact that you've already used up half your water and have an unrealistic view of life. In my opinion, it is better to acknowledge the fact that some of your thirst has already been quenched and be grateful for the water you still have, savoring every sip of it. To go through life, ignoring either death or life, isn't really living - it's existing. If we open our eyes to the fact that death is real and affects our life every day, just as life and new birth is also real and impacts our life every day, we can live more fully with the realization of what has been and what could be.

We have a heavy burden to bear. God has placed us here on this earth for a short time and has given each of us a mission that we need to accomplish before He takes us home. It is our choices that determine where we will stand on Judgment Day. If we follow His voice and obey Him, even when things are dark and we can't see the path in front of us, then one day we can stand before Him and hear Him say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." Or, we can choose to ignore His voice and walk on the well-traveled road that ultimately leads to death.

It's your choice. What will you choose?


"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. . . . Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." - 2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 16-18

"Never again will they hunger, never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." - Revelation 7:16-17

(c) 2010 Erica M. Holle. All rights reserved.


Reese said...

I think that the imagery in this is very unique. Excellent entry!

Anonymous said...

Well written Erica! Rachel

Whitney C. said...

Hey! I'm a follower! Turns out I had to make a teaching blog on this blog-thinger a long, long time ago for an education class! I was tech-savvy at one point but just forgot!

I likes the stories! This last post reminded me of Tuck Everlasting. "What we do isn't life Winnie. We're like rocks, stuck on the side of the stream"

Catherine said...

This was very touching :) You have grown into a great writer, I am proud of you.

Anonymous said...

Erica, you have a way with words. May God use you in a way to bring glory to Himself. This touched my heart.

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