It’s a cloudy morning and I’m standing at the embalming table. The elderly gentleman who died a few hours ago is waiting patiently for the embalming process to be completed and for us to dress him in his suit. I already removed the hospital gown he was wearing and he is now covered with a simple white sheet. As I reach to take his left arm and place it at a resting position on his chest, the movement of the hands of his watch catches my eye. His body is shockingly still, yet there is this element of knowing that time continues on, even after death. Soon, he’ll be placed in a casket. I’ll take his hands and fold them one over the other for the last time. He’ll be buried with his watch on, and its hands will keep moving, but his will not.
The ticking of the clock on the wall echoes in my ears. It’s a distinctive sound in the quiet room, and with each passing second, the tasks of the day loom before me. I have a phone call to make about a potential job, and I can feel the pressure rising. I know I’ll be moving on soon; it’s time. I’ll be living and working in a new place in as little as a matter of months, and the reality is setting in. Time will tell where I’ll end up, but I trust it will be an opportunity for a brave new adventure.
Time keeps moving in and around us every moment of every day; the sun dips down below the horizon each night then, like a pendulum, rises new every morning. Time marches on in a rhythm which is both gracious and unrelenting. Each passing hour brings joys and sorrows; sometimes all at once.
As people leave this world, a funny thing happens– those left behind have a very real sense of a loss, yet an equally strong sense of wanting to retain. Death evokes in us a desire to preserve and hold onto memories of loved ones. Oftentimes, funerals serve as spaces for sharing stories and objects that highlight who our loved one is and was. Times past are shared, but the memory of the person remains present. Verb tenses switch back and forth as hearts and minds attempt to counterbalance the unwelcome reality of loss. In these moments, it is important to know that just because people die it does not mean they are gone from our lives. Family traditions and quirky habits are passed along just as much as eye colors and genetic diseases. Our loved ones influence our lives with echoing words and favorite songs and penchants for gardening, cooking, teaching, and countless other gifts. It’s a beautiful thing to acknowledge rich heritage as we step forward to continue a legacy of someone who has touched us deeply.
… I tuck a pocket watch into a suit pocket and close the lid of the casket. I can’t help but think that even though time may not always heal the wounds of this life, we can take comfort that our days are numbered and our paths are set out before us. I hold onto hope that rests on the promises of an eternal Father, who time cannot contain, and in whom we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:24-29)
The clock on the wall keeps ticking, its hands moving in that circular, predictable, measured rhythm. For me, there’s an added layer of mystery within time because I have trouble reading analog clocks. I glance at the hands of the clock again and then, remembering my deficiency, refer to my digital watch as I walk down the hallway toward whatever else the day might bring.