John's funeral today was not a traditional one. There was a visitation service from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., followed by an hour-long celebration of life. By the time I arrived at the funeral home shortly after noon, the noise level of the visitors had reached a buzz that could be heard clear down the hall. There was a steady procession of people milling about, all talking at once, catching up with old friends, telling stories, hugging, shoulder-clapping. If there'd been drinks and hors d'oeuvres, you'd have sworn you were at a party.
I'm sure things would have been more subdued if there'd been a body there, but John had requested that he be cremated.
So many people: lawyers and judges in suits and ties and younger men, those whom John had taught to hunt and fish, wearing camouflage in his honor. His own hooded camouflage jacket was hung up and displayed with a handful of his duck calls, reminding me of the quacking noises that frequently emanated from his office when I least expected them. His life was well represented among the family and friends who loved him and who gathered in that large chapel.
There was no priest or pastor leading the service, using the opportunity to indulge in seemingly obligatory soul-saving amid a few brief remarks about the deceased. That's okay if you like that, if you want that, but it's always kind of bothered me. It's almost always seemed insincere--like a paid advertisement for Jesus at an event where people need healing, not to be reminded that their mortal souls are in jeopardy.
Instead, John's son, Charlie, had written a beautifully moving tribute to him which was read aloud by a friend at the beginning of the memorial service. In it Charlie expressed what his dad had meant to him and why and recounted the life lessons John had taught him. Among those, reinforced by specific anecdotes, were the importance of living life honestly and honorably and the equal importance of living it to the fullest.
John's best friend, Ralph, gave the eulogy. He began by saying how honored he was to have been asked to do so. He said he'd started to write a speech, then thought, "Wait a minute! If I had died and John was going to give my eulogy, what would he do? He'd wing it." And so Ralph did. He spoke from his heart about John's love of his family, his passion for hunting and fishing, his forthrightness, his love of a good argument, his contrariness--all the facets of his personality that made him a unique human being. "He was a character," Ralph said. That he was.
For the first time ever I left a funeral feeling uplifted instead of mournful. I walked out of there with a keen awareness that I'm alive and that it's up to each of us to pay attention to all the possibilities that are open to us, to make the best of the time we have left. I feel energized and inspired.
What a gift!
I loved this celebration of life and love. I know John would have loved it. And I'm pretty sure God would give it an A+, too.