I didn't attend many funerals as a child and was therefore unschooled in the rite and tradition that accompany the passing of a loved one. As such, when my grandfather died, I, a young mom of a baby and a toddler, knew enough of funeral etiquette to pack the prescribed black dress but neglected to bring anything appropriate for the receiving line during visitation. I wore a khaki skirt and a yellow tee to greet those who came to pay their respects, a fact that shames me to this day.
As I said, my oldest two boys were my only two at the time and babies at that. Unsure both of leaving them with a stranger or taking them in the hopes they would be quiet during the service, we decided my husband would bring our oldest, then two years old, and meet us at the graveside after the service. The baby would stay behind with some family members. Without husband or child in tow, I found myself riding to the graveside with my parents and my sister and brother, the five of us as we always were before college and marriage and kids. As we came up to the cemetery, I saw my husband standing there at the entrance in his suit and tie, my son in front of him watching and waiting, held by his daddy's firm grip on his shoulders.
I don't know why that image of the two of them stand in such sharp relief in my mind. Funerals I have learned, now that my naivete has given way to experience, always carry with them a sense of the surreal and my grandfather's was no different. His death was unexpected--as nearly all are it seems, even those that tarry--and our grief therefore all the more poignant. I don't know why but seeing them there together, my husband and my son, is something I will never forget, their presence grounding me, a ray of joy piercing the haze of my sadness. They were so beautiful to me, still are, beautiful and strong and full of hope and life even then at that moment of our shared grief. They, my husband and sons, are evidence of God's grace to me, grace abundant and immeasurable, goodness undeserved and unmerited. I saw it then; I see it now.
Friday a week ago I stood in line to pay my respects as I have done many times in the years since my grandfather's passing. The line was such that it was forty five minutes before I finally reached the family, before I could tell my friend's daughters how much I loved their mother, her husband how much his wife meant to me. I never really know what to say in those sorts of situations; I try to tell them something I would want to know if I were them. I loved her, I told them. She was a great friend and mentor to me. I miss her. Very much. I cried as I told them these things and for some silly reason felt embarrassed by my tears.
What I told them was true. I miss her. Very much. She was a great friend and mentor and I will never forget our Wednesday mornings together at the crisis pregnancy center. We would chat; we would laugh; we would talk of husbands and children and homekeeping (or the lack thereof) and in and through it all we talked of the things of the Lord. I would watch her as she would pause outside the counseling room before going into to meet with a client. She was praying, that I knew, and I knew also that once she entered the room she would share the gospel--the good news that Jesus saves sinners--with courage and compassion.
I left the funeral home that Friday night and I went to a football game where I yelled like crazy with the rest of the fans and then I went home and went to bed, my day a snapshot of life as we know it: Grief. Joy. Sadness. Celebration. Loss. Hope. Death. Life. And grace. In and through it all there is grace.