Yesterday, my daughter sent me this account of the funeral of her husband's grandfather, and I thought it was so touching that I asked, and received, permission to post it here.
Luckily for me so far, I do not have a lot of experience with funerals. I went to several when I worked for the Sheriff's Office, when a fellow officer would be killed in the line of duty, and I went to my grandmother's and my uncle's funerals many years ago. Just recently my aunt died, way too young, and I went to her funeral. Yesterday, I went to Jeff's grandfather's funeral and now I know HOW TO SEND SOMEONE TO HEAVEN!
First, a little background on Grandpa N. (aka "The Fossil")....He was 87 years old, had 5 children, 12 grandchildren, and 15 great grandchildren--almost all of whom still live in or nearby the small town of Winsted where Fossil was born and raised and chose to raise his family. Grandpa N.'s number one passion in life was baseball. He umpired right up into his eighties and taught his son Dickie (Jeff's dad) and grandson Todd (Jeff's brother) how to ump too. Just 2 weeks before he died, Todd arranged for his grandpa to get to the town team's (Winsted Wildcats) ballgame in a special wheelchair and throw out the first pitch! That would be Grandpa's last game (on this earth anyway)! There was an article and a picture of him in the town paper, which was later displayed at the funeral home.
Grandpa N. was quite a character! He loved to go to the bar in town to hang out with other locals and tell dirty jokes. The one he told me EVERY time he'd see me was, "Do you know where they found the missing nurse? Underneath the Doc!" He loved to flirt with girls. But he loved his wife, a sweet Southern Belle from Alabama, and they were married for 65 years.
I imagine everyone dreads funerals, and admittedly, when I heard the arrangements I dreaded this one, particularly because I knew I had to somehow keep a 3 year old entertained during all of this. On Tuesday, there was a wake for Grandpa at the nursing home for an hour. All of the residents of the home who would be unable to come to the funeral and the staff wanted a chance to say goodbye and pay their respects. Grandpa's long time friend and roommate for the last 2 years at the nursing home, Henry, sat in the back of the chapel in his wheelchair and just bawled the whole time. So we did that hour--not so bad. Then we were supposed to go to the funeral home from four until eight. WHAT? Four hours?? Now I know why. That was barely enough time for everyone who came out to get through! I knew there'd be a crowd but HOLY COW! It seemed like a never-ending parade of people, each with their own funny stories about the Fossil. The Winsted Wildcats all came by in their baseball uniforms to pay their last respects.
It was open casket and I wondered how to explain this to my 3 year old. One of Sydney's second cousins, 5-year old Jack, walked into the funeral home and asked his mother, "Is this heaven?" His mother had told Jack, before coming to the funeral home, that Grandpa had gone to heaven and when Jack walked in and saw Grandpa, he figured he was in heaven! His mother said, "No Jack, we are in Winsted and that is DEFINITELY not heaven!"
Grandpa had told Grandma before he died that if she put him in a suit, he'd roll over and take it off! So the family decided to dress Grandpa in his umpire uniform and in the casket they placed a baseball, a bat, an umpire mask and an indicator (something umps hold in their hand to count balls and strikes, I think). Everything he'll need in heaven to umpire a game! Each of the children and grandchildren went up to Grandpa, one at a time, and talked to him, touched him, thanked him, told him how much they loved him and lastly, goodbye. I realized then how important an open casket was for everybody. Before this, I had mixed feelings about it but I think everyone really got a better sense of closure.
So after this long process, it's off to the bar! Grandpa would haved love to come too! Just a couple of years ago, Todd, who has always had a very special relationship with his grandpa, picked grandpa up, put an "Old Man" mask on him and took him to a Halloween party with all his (Todd's) friends! Still partying in his 80's! Everyone knows the N.s party hard, but love harder!
The next day, the family again gathered at 9:30 at the funeral home for one last chance to see Grandpa before the casket would be forever closed. Then we proceeded to the church for mass. The six oldest grandsons were the pall bearers and every one of their eyes were filled with tears as they carried their beloved Grandfather from the car down a sidewalk lined on both sides with uniformed men from the American Legion, all saluting, and into the church. (Grandpa had been in the military) There's just this awesome feeling you get when you walk by those men in uniform.
As we entered the church, I couldn't believe how crowded it was, especially for an 11:00 am weekday funeral. I'm sure if the funeral had been held on the weekend, there would have been standing room only, and Holy Trinity is a large church!
The entire service was absolutely beautiful. The music brought tears to your eyes. The priest was wonderful. He spoke so kindly to Grandma N. and then to the grandchildren. At the end of his speech, he looked at Grandma and said, while gesturing to the huge family surrounding her, "You two started all of this! I hope you're satisifed!"
The last, and hardest, part was taking Grandpa to his final resting spot. The American Legion men fired off shots. Taps was played. Not a dry eye anywhere. Finally the priest let each of the family members sprinkle holy water on the casket. Then it was all over. It felt like we had given him the greatest send-off to heaven! And I said to myself, "Now that's how you send someone to heaven!"
We were told that there would be a light luncheon after the funeral at the church. "Light" was definitely incorrect. I think every person in Winsted and the surrounding towns must have made food! It was a huge spread and everyone who came to the funeral also came to the luncheon! Small towns know how to do it right!
I didn't expect to feel this way at all. I've just never before seen a family and an entire community come together this way. I was overwhelmed with a wonderful feeling of love that's just hard to describe, so that's why I decided to write all of this.
And, of course, it was off to the bar again that night!
A family friend wrote a poem that was displayed beside Grandpa's casket and I liked it so much that I got a copy:
THE BROKEN CHAIN
We little knew that morning
God was going to call your name
In life we dearly loved you
In death we do the same.
It broke our hearts to lose you
you did not go alone;
for part of us went with you,
the day God called you home.
You left us peaceful memories
Your love is still our guide,
and though we cannot see you
you are always at our side.
Our family chain is broken,
and nothing seems the same,
but as God calls us one by one,
the chain will link again.
P.S. This is a good description of a proper Orthodox funeral, as well -- minus the Winsted Wildcats, of course!