Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Funeral of a Stranger

I attended a funeral yesterday of a person I met only once, for about five minutes.  She was a 64-year-old woman who battled cancer for a year and a half.  I  met her about a month ago because she signed up to be a substitute driver for the transportation ministry I coordinate at my Church.  At that time, I made an appeal for drivers at the end of Mass, and she approached me afterward.

She had a very short crop of white hair and walked with a walker.  She said she had cancer, and would especially like to drive anyone else who had cancer.  We spoke briefly about her chemotherapy sessions, and I learned that she was usually alone and read during her treatment.  This was interesting to me, as the only other person I know who has gone through chemotherapy, always had at least one person (and often many) to pass the time with.  My friend, a mother of ten, has a never-ending list of people who love her and who were eager to take a "slot". 

This woman, though, was an only child and never married.  There were 35-40 people at her funeral, most of them co-workers.  If it weren't for the brief account of her life given by her best friend, all I would know about her is what I learned from her; She was willing to serve until the end of her life.  And that is why I was there.  I want to be like her.  I want to be willing to serve long after the world says I am relieved of my duty to do so. 

I never thought I would want to be cremated.  Before yesterday, it always seemed an unnecessary desecration of the body, and it disturbed me to think about my body going through an incinerator.  But, yesterday, upon entering the Church, I was struck by the beauty and profound simplicity of what she was leaving behind.  Her remains were in a simple white box, resembling a small treasure chest, and the only other thing on the 2x2 covered table was a single red rose.  I love it that the only other thing on the table was something simple, and yet exquisitely beautiful.  I really, really wanted to take a picture, lest I forget the impact this visible reality made on me.  However, I hope sharing it with you will etch it in my memory, just the same.   

The absence of her walker leaning against the table reminded me of how encumbered we can become in this life.  All of her earthly possessions were dispersed (and generously given by her).  There was no casket, and no ceremonious carrying of the casket by six strong men.  There was no funeral procession, and no cemetery plot.  There were no extravagant flower arrangements.  There was no crucifix, and no Rosary.  Simply proof of her existence, and something beautiful.  God's handiwork.     

I don't remember where I saw it, or who said it, but "All that is not given away is lost."  The only thing of value from our life, after our life is over, is what we have given to others.  The love we have sown in the lives of those who care enough to come to our funeral is the only thing we can claim, and the only thing that remains after we are gone.   

Dear God of Life and Eternity,

Thank you for the opportunity to meet Nancy, albeit briefly.  Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon her.  May she rest in peace.  Thank you for her willingness to serve until the end of her life.  Please give me the grace to imitate her.  Thank you for my husband and children, and all of the joy and love that come with loving and living so intimately.  Please draw near to those who are traveling through this life alone.  Help us to know them when we see them, so that we may bring You to them.  Thank you for funeral Masses and experiences that demand an honest assessment of where we are and where we're going.  Thank you for beauty and love, for they always point to You, their source.  When I die, please let me have retained nothing for myself.  Let the simplicity of my life reflect the truth of Your Life.  Thank you for all that was, is, and is to come.  Amen.          

No comments:

Post a Comment