What makes a perfect funeral? Strong attendance, beautiful weather, meaningful music, a powerful program, an abundance of flowers and good food. Yesterday we had every bit of that.
As with any pre-planned event, there were moments of quiet drama leading up to it. For example, Louisa struggled to find something of her dad’s she could wear or display throughout the day as a testimony of her love for him. We didn’t accomplish that, much to her frustration.
As people entered the room at the funeral home, they could track Nate’s life on 14 poster boards full of photographs, arranged in chronological order. There were also enlargements scattered here and there, along with our wedding album. All of us were greeted with the scent of many flowers, and sunshine streamed through the windows. Crowds began arriving well before the start of the service, and at the stroke of noon, music filled the air.
Family members sat in the first several rows of seats, and I took one last look toward the back of the room just before we sat down. It was standing room only with extra chairs in the hallway, and as we began the service, folks were still arriving.
Planning the program had been easy, once we learned our former pastor, Colin Smith, was available and willing to deliver the meditation. A second pastor, Ted Olsen, agreed to MC the meeting, and our favorite accompanist was at the keyboard, assisted by a beautiful alto singer.
All seven children plus our two children-in-law stood side-by-side facing the audience as the service started. Adam prayed, and the four girls welcomed everyone with thank you’s for the unending loving care so many had shown us during the last whirlwind weeks. Then the four boys read the eulogy, written by Linnea. Several had difficulty but all pushed through their readings with courage. Nate would have loved it.
As I scanned the line-up of our kids, ages 19 through 36, my heart ached with deep love for each one. They were gaining in maturity by leaps and bounds as a result of these difficult weeks and the death of their father and father-in-law, because it’s during life’s crises that we grow.
Nate’s and my brother-in-law read parts of Psalm 103 from the Old Testament, and my brother read from 2 Corinthians 4 and 5, interspersed with Nate’s two favorite hymns: “Blessed Assurance” and “Beautiful Savior.” Pastor Colin delivered an effective message from Revelation 7 with five points highlighting what Nate was doing right now, four days after his death, in heaven. His powerful invitation for others to be sure they would one day join Nate there was an answer to my prayers.
After folks had filed past Nate’s casket giving us the chance to see each one who had attended, we got one last opportunity to look at the body of the man we loved. Standing there crying, there was only one thing to do: pray. My kids put their arms around me and each other as we thanked God for Nate’s life, for our family, for each person who came to celebrate his life and most of all for God himself, the one who’d been with us all the way through and who we knew would not leave us now.
As the casket was being carried out by our four sons, our son-in-law, Nate’s brother and a young man who was like a son to us, the funeral director handed me a small green velvet pouch. “His wedding ring,” he said.
I turned to Louisa standing nearby and said, “Here’s Papa’s ring. Would you keep it safe for me?” Finally she was “wearing” something extremely representative of her father, just as she’d hoped, and I saw the Lord’s tender touch in how and when this had occurred.
Since the cemetery was adjacent to the funeral home, our train of cars, though long, traveled only a matter of blocks. The unusually warm November day helped the cemetery service go well as Nate’s body was committed back to the earth. We each put a red rose on the casket, along with the seven pairs of white gloves worn by the pall bearers.
After the benediction, people hung around the grave site enjoying the sunshine and summery breezes. Although most leaves had already fallen, color was still evident in the mighty oaks nearby, and we all appreciated the beauty of the day. We waited to watch the casket being lowered into the ground until it hit bottom. In my mind, that was the moment when it was finished.
Driving to a local church for a lunch put together by dear friends, we feasted on fruit and salads, sandwiches and cake. Precious moments of conversation with those who stuck with us to this end were especially valuable.
The only thing missing was… Nate.
Isaiah wrote, “The Lord has anointed me to… bind up the brokenhearted… to comfort all that mourn… to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness… that the Lord might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)