Death is not usually thought of as beautiful. There isn’t much about it that is beautiful or pretty or even pleasant. There is, however, beauty in the remembering, in the time taken to pause and reflect, in the care shown by others. There is also a certain beauty that comes only with age. A dignity. A presence.
There are few things more beautiful than a group of white-haired Southern belles giggling like schoolchildren. Their steps may not be as spry nor as smooth as they once were, but they come bumbling up the walkway nonetheless. Their hands may be gnarled and shaky, but their dress and seasoned voices are, in a word, elegant. Though they are in mourning of a dear friend, they still know what to hold onto in this life. They shush each other as they clamor up the church steps. My imagination hopes they are recounting a scandalous story of days gone by, of young love and late nights. Then again, perhaps it is a story of the children, saying things that only children do. The children, after the nights of rocking them to sleep, of worrying over them and bathing them and gently smoothing their hair. The children who would grow up only to refuse to eat their broccoli and then get all those speeding tickets. The children who are gathered here today too, sitting in the front pew. The ones who have children of their own now, who might be experiencing this thing called death for the first time. The ones who came here to remember and to honor the beauty in the life that was lived.
There aren’t many things about death that are beautiful, but it is my job as a funeral professional to make more of them come into being. Preparing the body, washing hair, buttoning shirts, tying ties, painting nails, positioning in the casket…. All of it to be sure the good memories are talked about, laughed about, and held onto for just a little while longer.
So we set out the flowers and turn on the lights and make sure the Kleenex’s are within arm’s reach. We smooth the fabric in the casket and speak gently as much as we can. We print out the programs and, if you’re lucky, we might even wash the cars. We bow our heads when you bow yours. As you open your hymnal to “How Great Thou Art,” we stand in the back and sing along because we know it by heart. And it is beautiful.