No one really likes to attend wakes and funerals. It’s difficult to know what to say to the family, and its awkward walking up to a casket to look at a once living, vibrant person whose soul is now long gone. Often guests will say, “Oh, she looks wonderful,” or “He looks just like he’s sleeping.” Attempting to negate the presence of death is futile, but we all hate it enough to try.
As I’ve approached a funeral parlor in the past, I’ve dreaded stepping into the room where the dead body is present. I feel better once I see the lighted podium with a guest book and pen on it. Somehow signing the book is a moment of normalcy in an otherwise tense event, and I’ve taken my time there.
At Nate’s funeral two weeks ago today, I watched as people approached the guest book with its pretty pen and white floral arrangement nearby. I knew how everyone felt as they entered and gratefully bent over the book before moving further into the room, and I looked forward to reading each signature.
This week I finally got my chance. Every night as I crawled into bed, I sat with the book on my lap reading a few pages before turning out the light. What pleasure it brought to see the names of people who came to pay their respects to Nate. He would have been astounded at the crowd, filling the largest room the funeral home had to offer, both on the wake day and again during the funeral the day after that. As I studied page after page, I couldn’t get over it. My heart was bursting with thankfulness for so many people willing to put forth so much effort on our behalf.
Because those two days were a whirlwind of activity with many consecutive hours of conversational overload, I knew I wouldn’t remember everyone who attended. The guest book was a valuable tool that reminded me. Looking at someone’s signature revived the memory of chatting with that person at the funeral home. His or her words of love came back to me, as well as sweet memories of smiles and hugs.
Although I had several teary moments during those two days spent greeting people and hearing stories about Nate, both days evolved from early morning sadness into joy and blessing. Beforehand, I would never have imagined describing my own husband’s wake, funeral and burial in such positive terms, but the support and uplift of each guest was what made them so.
During the three days between Nate’s death and the wake/funeral, I spent quite a bit of time praying for those who would attend, asking God to open each of their hearts to receive whatever message he had for them. I prayed the same for my family and myself.
As I read through the list of names and addresses in the guest book, it dawned on me that some people had come from distant suburbs to be at the Chicago funeral home. Others had driven much farther to come from out of state. Quite a few had bought plane tickets and rented hotel rooms to be on hand to honor Nate. I was stunned. And I was very grateful I had the guest book, with addresses as well as names, to remind me of the sacrifices people had made.
I’m ashamed to say that in my past I’ve often come up with reasons why I couldn’t attend funerals. The time commitment, the distance and the uncomfortable situation kept me away. But on the days of Nate’s wake and funeral, God answered the prayer I’d prayed asking him to open my heart to whatever message he had for me. His message, delivered through the guest book, was “I want you to show up at funerals.” And so from now on, I will.
“The day you die is better than the day you are born. Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies—so the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1b-4)