“Am I supposed to wear a dress, and does it have to be black?” I asked my mom over the phone. I just didn’t want to offend anybody by what I wore, but I also didn’t want to be overdressed and stand out like a sore thumb. She said that not everyone wore dresses any more; as long as the clothes were a dark color, I would be fine. She said not to wear red. (Later my mother-in-law explained that to say, “I’m wearing red to your funeral” was an insult.) The older generation sometimes still expected women to wear dresses, though. That did it. I was going to wear a dress. My husband wore a suit, but with a long black T-shirt underneath instead of a button-down shirt. I started humming the Miami Vice theme song, since that was the last time I saw men wear clothes that way, back in the 80’s. But my laughing turned serious when I realized that my husband looked really good. “How come you’ve never dressed like that before? That looks good!”
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve been to a funeral,” my husband said. I think that wearing black with a suit had never occurred to him. My mom was sick with a cold, so it was my dad that knocked on the front door to watch the kids.
Arriving at the funeral home, I noticed the closed casket and was relieved. The image of her contorted body the last time I saw her is indelibly imprinted on my mind, and I would like to wash it off. Maybe the image will go away if I can manage to stop thinking about it.
Some of the family members turned around and smiled at me with huge, tearful smiles. I had only just met some of them the day she died, but apparently the hours of weeping and hugging had been so bonding that now we were good friends, especially the daughter of the deceased.
After I was seated, I stupidly realized that I hadn’t brought tissues. I leaned over to my handsome husband and whispered about my tissue-less-ness. I had also forgotten to sign the registry. My husband got up, since the service hadn’t started yet, and collected tissues and signed the registry.
One of the first things that happened was a slide show to commemorate her life. Tear-jerker music was in the background. Really? Oh my goodness! I had finally stopped crying today, after three or four days of crying off and on and being in a fog. I leaned over to my husband and whispered something about the sappy music. The slides went on for three whole songs. Some of the pictures were funny. Like she was wearing a clown wig, and all these grieving people burst out laughing. She was also painting the outside of a house, standing on a ladder with a dress on. I quietly pointed out to my husband that she was wearing a dress on a ladder. I turned to look at him, and I realized he had tears in his eyes, too. He passed me the tissues, and I had used most of them by the time the lights came back on. I was exhausted and wondered how I would get through the service.
People started going up, telling stories about the life of this woman. Some of the stories were funny, like the time she wanted to kiss a boy, and she made her brother pretend to be the minister to marry them. Everyone laughed, including the grieving husband.
We sang a couple of songs, and I heard my pastor preach the shortest sermon I’ve ever heard him preach. “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for the living take it to heart…” the pastor quoted from Ecclesiastes, and the verse hit me like it never had before. Many people in this room did not know Christ. I closed my eyes and begged God for their souls, that they would consider death, and take it to heart. This woman had been praying for her unsaved family members for years. I know, because I was in her Bible study. I suddenly felt an increased burden to pray for them.
At the end, I hugged the grieving husband (the same gray-haired man who had previously told me how I was a good parent, changing the course of my life), and his daughter came over to me from across the room with open arms. I had given her mother her dying wish, to hear hymns as she was passing to glory. Somehow I had fulfilled this, and it meant the world to the family. I hadn’t realized that a dozen people had been intently listening to my lower-than-average singing voice, cracking occasionally because of the lump in my throat and the tears that needed to be wiped away. I knew that I was ministering to the dying woman; I just didn’t know how much I was ministering to the living family.
The daughter asked me if we were going to the reception. There’s food after a funeral? We had other things planned, like my in-laws were coming over to dinner and to watch the kids so I could go out with my husband. The daughter told me that she wanted to meet my kids. I could tell by her expression that it would mean the world to her. I said, “They’re loud.” She laughed and told me to bring them.
“Put on church clothes, fast!” I yelled to the kids as we got home. “Where are we going?” they asked. “There’s food there,” I answered as we piled in the car and drove off.Tweet