The secretary from the office I used to work at lost her husband last Friday. I didn't know him, but I worked closely with her for nearly four years and just didn't feel I could duck out on the funeral (You can be sure if I attend one of these, it's a not a small thing. I am principally against them, but that's a topic I've covered before).
Her husband frequently treated her shabbily and I was witness to more than one Monday of her quietly crying at her desk and because of our close working conditions there was no way I could not ask what was wrong. Frankly, the woman was a rock in my shoe most of the time I worked in that office, but her strength of character and her determination to do the right thing at all costs impressed me. I'd have left him a long time ago.
The funeral was held at a countryside chapel built by her husband's family some eighty years ago. Classrooms, a kitchen, and bathrooms had been added on haphazardly as they needed them, so what stands now is the original building surrounded by rooms sticking off at odd angles. It sits on a dirt road surrounded by hills and pastureland, with a small family graveyard next door. Generations of this family have attended church at this place, sung hymns, listened to sermons, walked up the aisle to take communion, be baptized, and married, and been carried back down the same aisle to their graves.
We were directed through a side door into a classroom. The chapel itself was full of extended family so we stood along with thirty or so other people listening to the minister as best we could as well as the surprisingly good bluegrass/gospel music played by still more family members. There were flowers everywhere, hanging over the banisters, tumbling over the top of the casket, half blocking the aisles. Sunlight lit the room.
It was difficult to hear most of what was said, but the snatches of the sermon I did catch were unusual. In his description of the man himself, the minister referred to him as a "harsh man who often blamed other people for his problems, but he did have some good qualities too . . . ." (he loved to hunt and fish and how he did love his cigars and he would help people if they could talk him into it). I don't think I've ever heard anyone be so honest about a dead person before and I wondered how many people in the chapel nodded their heads. More than that, I wondered how many of them decided then and there to change their own lives. I know I thought about what people would say about me.
Being an old country funeral meant it was a two fold ceremony. First in the chapel, then at the graveside, both long and drawn out with sermons at both that are designed to challenge the living to get right with God (not bad advice, but the timing is poor, in my opinion). I stopped and hugged the secretary (she sobbed on my shoulder, which did me in too) And, to be honest with you, we slipped out as they were carrying the casket to the grave. I didn't need to see the face of his family as they lowered the casket and one sermon was enough.
We held hands all the way home. Gary made dinner (his prized oven fried chicken, mashed potatoes and salad) and just now brought me a glass of wine. He's sitting at the other end of the sofa right now watching an old Indiana Jones movie and eating ice cream. I think I'll go join him. And be thankful.