Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
This morning my husband and I attended the funeral of a very dear lady, who was a family friend and tragically died suddenly at home a couple of weeks ago. She was seventy-three, almost the same age as my Dad. I was dreading the funeral at the crematorium. It was going to be the first time, I had been to a funeral since my brother’s death, almost exactly five years ago. The crematorium was also where my husband said goodbye to his Dad nearly ten years previously.
When we arrived at the crematorium, a large crowd was waiting outside for a different funeral. I could feel the unease growing inside me and for some reason I knew that I couldn’t look at the hearse. We sat inside the waiting room. As crematoriums go, it wasn’t too bad, but it had that sterile and faceless atmosphere. I started to wonder as I waited, do these places seem so awful simply because we hardly ever discuss them or go? If we went every day, would it feel more welcoming? I felt very uneasy. We went outside to await the funeral cortege and I could feel the sadness beginning to engulf me. I started to regret wearing make-up. The lady next to me kindly whispered, “The trick is not to wear mascara!” I almost wanted to apologise for my panda eyes and my tears.
As the close family arrived, it made me realise how raw funerals are. We see people tagging behind with their emotions leading them; inflamed and open like a bleeding wound. Everyone stares and wants to console them, but no one seems to know what to do. I clung onto my husband and felt that awful sense that one day I would be here or in a similar place again and possibly for someone that I loved. I didn’t want to think about that any longer, so I clung onto my husband much harder.
The crematorium was packed with all the people who wanted to pay tribute to this lovely lady. At the altar we could see the coffin and a very large picture of the lady who had died smiling and laughing; exactly as I remembered her. I am not sure if it was a celebrant or a vicar, but she began the service with a list of adjectives to describe the deceased. She was joyous, happy, funny, always laughing and then there was that phrase: unconditional love. They played many pieces of music and talked at length of funny stories that punctuated this lady’s life. What schools she attended, where she went to work, when she married, holidays abroad, events in life. There was the time she cooked lettuce, believing it to be cabbage, the cakes she made that always ended up burnt and the time she dented the family car. It made us laugh as we cried. There were the smooth, velvety tones of Karen Carpenter, Elvis singing Love me tender and Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. We heard more and more tales of how she had always been an incredibly giving and welcoming person. Time and time, we heard those two words: unconditional love. The last time we heard them, a beam of light came through the stained-glass window and lit the room far brighter.
I cried a lot today. I cried for the sadness of this lady’s death. I cried for her poor husband who after fifty-five years of marriage now must accept that she will never return. I cried for the loss of my brother nearly five years ago today. I cried because I can not imagine a life without the people that I now love.
We are all going out of this World in the same way. None of us want to admit it, but one day we will all be placed in a narrow coffin and then return to dust. What will matter then will not be the house we lived in or the car we drove, but the love we gave to our family and friends. The grudges and arguments will also be meaningless. All that will remain is that unconditional love that was continually mentioned today and which lasts forever.
In memory of a very special lady.