He deserved better. When we conducted his funeral back in March of 2020, we did so according to COVID-19 protocols. We were especially mindful of his widow’s vulnerability to this virus. All were masked. It was a private family gathering at the funeral home. No reception. The hope at that time was that once COVID-19 restrictions were lifted he would receive in church the Celebration of Life he deserved: hymns, testimonials, luncheon. We optimistically assumed it might happen in June. That never happened.
A man of civic commitment, he deserved better, especially in light of his public and private contributions toward the betterment of our county, churches, towns. Countless were things he did behind the scenes. A man of deeds, not of the mouth. A man who practiced humble respect for all walks of life, and little patience for those who didn’t. A man who tried to make sure life would be fair because he knew it usually wasn’t. Saith the Wizard of Oz to the Tin Woodsman: “A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.”
The same could be said for others who have been buried during these COVID months. Did they deserve more than they got? There’s the fellow who died too young from a heart attack. There’s the elderly mom in a local nursing home who, despite best efforts, contracted COVID-19 and turned weak overnight, too weak to receive certain medications. Is it just me or have the number of obituaries printed in the newspaper increased these isolating months? Who did you lose from COVID-19 or otherwise?
Obituaries are summaries of a person’s life, never the summation. What lies between the newsprint is what tells the real story. Ultimately, stories are what we are. We write our own epitaphs. When granddaughters, sons, or friends respond to our invitation to participate in the funeral service and say a few words, we pastors urge them to share details rather than speak in generalities. Describe incidents. Talk about grandma’s recipe for Thanksgiving fudge. Tell about a hunting trip or about his favorite song. Speak his nickname. The adage holds true: the closer the bond, the deeper the grief. We also request that the speaker draft a closing line so they can end their talk.
Next week’s inauguration for Biden and Harris begins with a profound step in the right, reverent, and decent direction. Finally. The Presidential Inaugural Committee will hold on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 5:30 p.m. — the eve of the inauguration — a somber memorial service. Overdue, it will take place around the Reflecting Pool honoring all lives lost from COVID-19. This “National moment of unity and remembrance” hopes to include bell-ringing and candles lighted across this afflicted nation. Somebody’s finally paying attention.
We too can pay attention, ring bells, light candles. We too, right here, can affirm how personal this national memorial is to us. Earth to earth, dust to dust. By each toll, each flame, we reject surrendering to angry vagaries or swept into selfish, petty and destructive currents. We kindle faith, compassion, hope from the ashes of our grief.
How we care for our dead instructs the living. If we fail in this, we fail the past, present and future. There’s more we can do locally for our beloved dead. Let us give those we mourn something more special than what they got. It would be fitting if houses of worship of all faiths would plan for a day of remembrance and thanksgiving for all our deceased loved ones to take place once we are able to shelve our face masks and again hug, shake hands and worship together. It will happen. We will come through this valley of deep darkness, this valley of the shadow of death. Plus, I really want to cook for a Jambalaya party.
Please, would the local religious leaders lead as the consoling conscience of our community by planning types of services that could be offered, even sponsor a date for a town-wide reading of the names of those we buried this year, those whose funeral services were unfinished? Let us plan for a united time of reflection, giving thanks for their significance in our lives. Together we laugh, together we cry. Let community and friends have a chance to show love toward the families of the loved ones not forgotten. Share a meal together. Offer memories. Sing hymns. Most of all, tell a few stories.
The Rev. Robert Andrews is a retired pastor of Grove Presbyterian Church in Danville. Read more of his work at robertjohnandrews.com.