Singing in the Rain

Funeral directing is one of those “all-weather” jobs. Rain, shine, sleet, snow, sweltering humidity….the show must go on.

It’s kind of like the US Postal Service, but with hearses instead of those cute little white mail trucks.

Rainy days can be especially challenging. Cemeteries become seas of black umbrellas as mourners gather for gravesides. Shoes sink into soggy ground and chilly water starts seeping into the socks meant to keep toes warm. Open graves fill with water that must be pumped out before the casket is lowered into the ground. The thought crosses our minds that maybe we should’ve stayed home and sat this one out.

We mortician types are known to keep spare umbrellas in unique places so we can grab them at a moment’s notice. I even have one or two small ones in the pockets of my raincoat. I’ve also stashed some trashbags in pockets to cover sound equipment during outdoor services… Just one of those tricks of the trade you pick up along the way.

There have been days when I thought my nose was going to freeze and fall off before the preacher said, “Amen.” There have been other days when sweat doesn’t just drip–it pours down every inch of my skin. It’s one thing to have to empty your shoes of rainwater. It’s quite another thing to empty them of sweat, but I have done it.

Whatever the weather, we funeral directors are often seen wearing dark suits. There are raincoats and overcoats and umbrellas galore in nooks of our closets, and you might even catch us with those little hand warmer packets in our pockets on a cold day.

We go on out whether the forecast is good or bad and only hope we are prepared for what we meet. And if it starts raining during a funeral, we’ll brave the monsoon to get an umbrella for you from our hoard. Maybe the term, “wet rat,” should be added to our job description?

All joking aside, I’ve experienced some of the most poignant moments at funerals taking place in challenging weather conditions. One that comes to mind was at an old country church late on a Friday during the summer. The weatherman had not predicted rain, but an afternoon thundershower popped up nonetheless. As the church service came to a close, my coworker and I listened in from the brick lined porch outside the sanctuary. The congregation sang “Amazing Grace,” and the words of the old hymn rang out against the heavy rain falling around us. I huddled close to the wall of the building and watched the raindrops come down like a cleansing flood. We gathered umbrellas for folks to use as they exited the building and ran to their cars. Mud splashed and children squealed. Little old ladies set their jaws to grin and bear it. The words of the song, however, lingered in the air for the one we were there to lay to rest–“Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home!”


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A Touching Story

I sat down to eat my lunch at one of the two-seater tables. I wasn’t looking to take up much room–just wanted some time for my legs to rest and to enjoy the food. It was a casual place, and people talked amongst themselves and smiled politely. I noticed the older couple mostly because they were sitting across from me. They weren’t talking, but that didn’t seem too abnormal. The more I glanced in their direction, I noticed their hands touched ever so slightly as they rested on the table. When they had to move them for eating purposes, they gently went back to touching as if it were as natural as breathing.

Her cellphone rang as she was halfway through her sandwich. Through the mingled sounds in the room, I heard her say the words, “surgery, again, wait, scan, silicone, Tuesday.” Her eyes started flooding with tears and she handed the phone to her husband. He finished the conversation for her as she finished eating between deep breaths. They both seemed disappointed when he hung up and handed the phone back to her. From what I could tell, they were trying to talk to one of their children about getting in a visit with the grandkids before her surgery next week. The schedules weren’t lining up and the miles between them weren’t few. I watched the man’s eyes as they talked. He looked down at his empty plate as she scrolled through Facebook on her phone.

I don’t know their story, or where this road is taking them. It’s a cancer story, though, and those are not easy. His eyes were sad, but the tone of his voice was hopeful. I quietly pray he is able to comfort his wife and support her in this journey. It’s a path of unknowns; twists, turns, bumps perhaps.

I wonder if they’ve talked about what happens when she’s gone. I wonder if he has thought ahead to a time when his hand will rest on the table alone or if he’s hoping against the odds.

I wonder if they’ll get to see the grandkids this weekend or if her heart will ache as she heads towards “surgery, again, Tuesday.” In many ways, this could be the beginning of her goodbyes. I hope I’m wrong and that it’s merely a chapter in the middle of her story. But if it’s not, if it’s closer to the end of the book, I hope her hands will touch his softly until their last words are shared.


Filed under grief, thoughts

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

Words of “Joy to the World” fill the airwaves…

Let every heart prepare him room.

We’re in the Advent season now, and many of us are preparing our homes with Christmas foods, decorations and lights. Even the funeral home has a poinsettia in the lobby and wreaths on the doors.

The Christmas season is all about preparing–trees are put up, cookies are baked, stockings are hung by the chimney with care. It can be overwhelming sometimes with all the gifts to be wrapped and parties to attend. Christmas preparations, however, do not come as a surprise to us because the holiday comes around every year. Some of us may even enter December with a faint sense of dread, but traditions are carried on, carols are sung and we get together with family and friends to celebrate the season. IMG_0030-1.JPG It’s interesting to me that one of the most quoted passages of Scripture at funeral services is also about preparing.  You don’t usually think of death as something you can be prepared for, and truthfully, none of us know how long we will be on this earth. Death can come suddenly, even tragically, or it can come slowly, over the years. It is never, however, something for which we can be completely prepared. Some amount of planning may help ease the burden of the many details that need to be attended to when death occurs, but worrying about it will not put off the inevitable nor lessen the grief for those left behind. If there are few conversations and preparations made before a death, decisions for family members can be more overwhelming in their state of grief. Even the most well-prepared plans, however, will not fully lift the feeling of loss.

In the gospel of John, chapter 14, Jesus speaks to the disciples to comfort them in preparation for his death and he says,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”

 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 NIV

Advent is all about preparing. It is equally, however, about waiting and abiding in the promise of our Savior. The reminder in John 14 is that a place is being prepared for us and it is one of thoughtful design and eternal hope. It may not be filled with gumdrops and candy canes, but it has many rooms, and the invitation is open at all times. This season may find you reflecting on the loss of a loved one or making preparations for when your time comes. Sickness and earthly pain may leave you feeling less than jolly. Our great privilege in this season, however, is to rejoice in the knowledge of the Emmanuel, God incarnate–with us on earth here to dwell– who is preparing a place just for us. How are you preparing your heart to tune into the truth of the real meaning of Christmas this year?


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