Last week we had a moving funeral.
One of the most moving I’ve ever worked.
It was the funeral of a young man who overdosed at the age of 29.
Funerals for the young are usually tragic in nature. Funerals for the overdosed are extra tragic, cause they not only cause grief, but too often cause guilt in those that are left behind. “We could have stopped this … we could have done more” acts as an undefined, unanswerable, gnawing parasite.
Grief and guilt all at once.
These kinds of deaths also act as a sign. A road sign for the friends of the deceased that are going down a similar path. A road sign that states, “This is death. This is where you are heading. Stop.”
Tears are shed at these funerals from eyes that haven’t shed a tear since their youth. Strong men who had weathered intense storms of difficulty are rendered to tears by the powerful reality of death. Shoulders sulk. Talkative mouths are rendered speechless. Pride is humbled.
Denial. Thoughts of, “This isn’t happening. I was just talking to him last week” are crushed when the viewing line slowly moves up to the casket, and you see the lifeless body of your friend, brother, sister laying cold, eyes closed, flesh tones paint on, face paled, laying forever in a coffin.
“This shouldn't be happening” all of a sudden becomes “this has happened.”
There was an instance at this 29 year old man's funeral that exemplified everything that viewing the body does to denial.
The viewing was supposed to end at 2:00 p.m., and when 2 o'clock came along the family told us to wait because “there’s a friend that needs to see him before you shut the lid … he’s two minutes away.”
Two minutes turned to ten minutes, and still no sign of the friend. We never want to push the family and say, “Well, it’s been ten minutes and it’s time to get started.” At the same, though, we try to keep everybody conscience of the situation. So, I suggested, “Can you call your friend on his cell phone to see where he’s at?”
Just about that time, the friend came through the door.
He didn’t actually come on his own initiative … he was being pushed up to the casket … maybe even pulled up by a couple of his friends. And he was resisting their force just enough to let his pushing and pulling friends know that he didn’t want to view the body, but not enough to totally resist their insistence. He was in denial. As he got closer to the casket, his body was facing the coffin, but his head was turned away, his jaw tightly shut in defiance and his fists clenched as though he was ready for a fight.
And he was fighting.
He was fighting. Fighting loss. Death makes those that are left into different people. We're meant for community ... we are most human in relationships; and when those relationships are broken, part of our person dies with the death of another.
Fighting against the loss of love. Love needs another. With the other dies, part of love dies with them.
Death has a way of highlighting everything that makes us human by taking those things away.
He was fighting until he got to the casket, saw his friend and forfeited his battle. The clenched fists opened and started touching his dead friend’s chest, his head that was turned away, was now fixated on the face of his deceased friend. His tightly shut jaw was now open, gasping in air as his body was shaking. Then he started to weep. His body collapsed onto the body of his deceased friend, and what had been fighting denial now became a full embrace.
Embracing death is like being born again ... it helps us see life in a whole new light.
I was glad we waited for him. This was his moment.