We were up in Akron today for a funeral service for an old and dear family friend. It gave Kish, Cath and me a chance to visit the Webner clan lived in before we moved to Columbus, see some fondly remembered acquaintances again, and visit Portage Country Club, the Tudor-style building where we had countless family gatherings — including weddings, showers, and birthday celebrations — over the years.
I had to take a look at the “Board Room,” pictured above, where Grandpa Neal hosted annual luncheons that featured lots of revelry, Baked Alaska for dessert, and Grandpa’s remarks in which he gave a recap of the year and, speaking totally from memory, recounted the highlights for everyone in attendance. I looked at the table and thought that, if we were to try to convene that gathering now, many of the chairs would be empty and those of us still around would look a lot grayer and more bowed than we once did. As we left Portage Country Club, I wondered if this was the last time I would pass through its big wooden doors.
They say that funerals are a time for remembering, and our visit to Akron today certainly set me to thinking back to old times. It was a wistful experience, but I enjoyed taking a little trip down memory lane.
Businesses are always pushing the envelope with drive-thru options. Some work, some don’t, but no company thinks it will go broke by assuming that many Americans would rather do just about everything while their plump behinds are resting comfortably on the pillow-like seats of their vehicles.
But . . . a drive-thru option that allows you to take a gander at the dearly departed from behind the wheel of your car? That’s what one Virginia funeral home is offering. Just go to the drive-thru lane, take a good look through the plate-glass window at the deceased, check the sign saying when the burial will occur, and head on home.
Well, sure. Why not? It’s a pain to get out of your car and wait in line during calling hours. Those lines seem to take forever, don’t they? And then, when you reach the casket and the distraught family members, it can be such a downer trying to say a few comforting words and express how much the person who has passed meant to you. And standing next to a corpse in a casket can be so creepy! If you see it through the window, you avoid those awkward moments with the bereaved and can see the body from a comfortable physical and emotional distance — like it was on TV.
And speaking of TV, why not just set up a “casket cam” that sending streaming video of the decedent to anyone who logs in on the internet, and makes death even more convenient for us all? It seems like the logical next step.
When we were in our 20s, we were in the wedding zone. Every month or so, it seemed, Kish and I would be off to a “wedding weekend,” attending the nuptials of friends and family members.
Now we seem to have entered the funeral zone. Rather than the great joy of weddings, we’re experiencing the emptiness and sadness of loss.
The prevalence of funerals seems surprising, but it shouldn’t be. According to American morbidity statistics, death rates multiply significantly when people enter their 50s. Suddenly more of our rock-like, long-time friends are dying. It’s jarring, and unsettling. And when you add the increased death rates of our generation to the expected funerals of older family members and acquaintances, it seems like much more time is spent putting on the gray suit and dark tie and going to funerals and calling hours.
I’m a strong believer in going to calling hours. Although I always feel sorry for the family of the departed, as they try to deal with their grief while standing for long periods greeting visitors, I think it is important to show up and give the family a tangible sign of how important the departed was to friends and colleagues. In our hurly-burly modern world, the fact that people have taken time from their busy days to stand in line in order to shake the hands of spouses, children, and siblings and murmur a few words of remembrance and consolation makes a huge statement. I think the physical presence of people who want to pay their respects helps those who are wrestling with the awful loss to understand the real significance of their loved one.
So I will go, and stand in line, and think about the person who has gone beyond, and hug friends who also are there, and greet the widow and kids and try as best I can to convey what the departed meant to me. I just wish there weren’t as many opportunities to do so these days.
Recently Kish and I went to a funeral service for a veteran. The service featured the presentation of the colors. It reminded me, yet again, of the extraordinary power of ceremony in our lives.
In this instance, the presentation of the colors ceremony was performed by three Marines. It was accomplished deliberately, in complete silence, and with great dignity and respect. The three Marines walked down the center aisle of the church at stately pace and retrieved a folded flag from the altar. They slowly unfolded it so that the flag was fully unfurled when Taps was played. The Marines then carefully refolded the flag, presented it to each other, and slowly saluted the colors before presenting the folded flag to the widow and walking slowly out of the church. This simple ceremony was the culmination of the service and was a deeply felt moment for everyone present in the church.
In this case, the man who had passed was a true hero — a Marine who had fought and suffered grievous, life-threatening injuries in the Battle of Okinawa, recovered, and returned to normal life to make enormous contributions to his family, his community, and his profession. How can you adequately recognize the personal sacrifices that he, and his fellow veterans, have made on behalf of us all? Ceremony provides us with a means of accomplishing what mere words cannot. The presentation of the colors, performed with appropriate silence, gravity and care, is a powerful way to demonstrate our esteem and gratitude for those who have served.