Tuesday, June 21, 2005
memories, part v
As I look across the crowd, the thought floats to the surface of my mind....
I never knew my father knew so many people.
They all sit, with the back of their heads to me... young, old, men, women, children. Most of them were from our church, but I knew that others had come from California and even as far away as Dallas, where my father attended seminary. Even with the huge sea of people, the ceiling of the church was raised far above their heads, the pews forming an arc whose focus lay on a simple stage...
...my father's open casket.
My family and I sit in a darkened small room in the back, waiting for everyone to arrive before the funeral begins. I'm by myself in the front, and I squirm quietly in the hard chair I'm sitting in. The black shoes, slacks, suit jacket, and white dress shirt are new and starchy; Auntie May and Uncle Wil took me shopping just days before for the funeral clothes. The long black tie feels tight around my neck, as if it's constricting the lump in my throat as I stare blankly out in the crowd.
I'm trying to tune out the low murmur of whispering, crying, and sobbing in the room.
I feel a hand on my left shoulder and I turn that direction to see Uncle Greg sitting down next to me. He's my father's 2nd oldest brother, the one closest in age and personality to my Dad, though all of his kids are older than me. I like Uncle Greg. He even laughs like Dad, but he's not laughing now. There's a look of gentleness as he tries to smile at me, the muscles on his chin moving his black beard. He stoops his head down to speak to me face to face.
"Your father was a good man, Garrett. Don't forget that. You know he believed in God, right?"
I nodded my head slowly. Uncle Greg's smile had faded, but even with the solemn expression on his face, there was a kindness that was comforting.
"He's in heaven now, ya know? It's a better place than here. And someday, you'll see him again."
It wasn't anything I hadn't already been told. But hearing Uncle Greg say it, saying it as he believed it to be true, helps me to feel better. He pats my back and puts his arm around me. We sit there in a comfortable silence, both looking out at the people who have gathered for the funeral.
When we move to sit out with everybody else, we sit in the front row, as per custom. Close family sit nearby us in the row and behind us. The service isn't different than any other funeral - there's prayer, people share, a short devotional, some music. After the service, lines of people come up to view my father's casket and offer sympathies to the family. There were church members, friends, neighbors, missionaries, pastors... their faces blur together after awhile. It becomes an endless line of sad faces and pity and "I'm so sorry."
Even when I cry and stop and cry again, my mind feels numb. My soul feels detached from my body. Like it keeps expecting to wake up from a dream it didn't want to have.
But it wasn't over yet... it's now off to the graveside service. The pallbearers in their stark white gloves, good friends of my father like Uncle Sheldon and Uncle Paul and Uncle Andy, guide the casket into the hearse. The car ride to the cemetary seems to last forever, winding down I-5 from Seattle to down south toward my house. I stare listlessly out the window as the long procession of cars putters along.
At the gravesite, the sun shines bright enough to make me uncomfortable again in the dress clothes. The gathered crowd, in black suits and black dresses, with (mostly) black hair, and black shoes remains mostly quiet during the final prayer. I swear I hear a faint breeze as it blows, but it doesn't make me feel any cooler.
The sounds of crying and sobbing crescendo as they lower the casket in the ground. I can even hear the muffled cries of Auntie Amy, who along with Uncle Tom, Uncle Wil, and Auntie May, were like parents to my father when his mother passed away when he was young. And it's then that I realize why it hurts so much for them... they never imagined that they would be burying him instead of him burying them.
When the casket has been finished being lowered into the ground, I wait for it. I wait for the feeling of grief and sadness to blow away, to be buried. I close my eyes and pray silently, praying that God have mercy on me and remove the feeling. But like the stubborn embers of a fire, pain smoulders still, burning a hole through me, and God is silent. The wind had stopped too and the sun continues to garishly heat up my hair, burning my head.
As the crowd begins to disperse, I glimpse Uncle Greg with his wife, his eyes red too. He gives me a silent nod as we make eye contact and I remember what he said about Dad.
"He's in heaven now, ya know?"
I never could have imagined that just over two years later, I would have to mourn another untimely death, and that I'd be going to another funeral...
(memories part i, ii, iii, iv)
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