Yesterday, I was once again, reminded of the joy than can occur when we allow ourselves to be open to possibilities.
On Thursday evening, we hosted a visitation for a man who died after a long illness…a few months short of his 80th birthday.
I recognized his wife from church, his children were grown and most of his grandchildren were young adults….all but one.
His youngest granddaughter, who is one tenth of his age, was having a difficult time. Her older family members were trying to make the visitation “easy” for her, but nothing seemed to be working.
She sobbed with an anguish that I immediately recognized, taking me back to a Wednesday afternoon …over thirty eight years ago.
It was the afternoon of my grandfather’s first viewing and it was the day that made me decide I was going to be an undertaker. You can read about it here: How It All Began.
I have learned the secret to children at a funeral….let them be children. I mentioned to her mom that we had a playroom around the corner and we lead a sniffling, crying little girl to that room and guess what happened?….she smiled…and began playing.
Many of the relatives opted to stay there with her and over time, everyone took turns coming to our children’s playroom to see her, while still talking about her grandfather.
As they were getting ready to leave to go home, I asked her if the play room was a good idea….she smiled and gave me a “high five”.
On Friday morning, we met at my church for the Catholic, Requiem Mass. As is my job, I was there ahead of time and as the two limousines pulled into the circular drive of the church, guess whose big eyes I saw looking at me as I stood, shivering in the fierce wind?
Then we discovered a problem, well…an opportunity. One of the six pallbearers was not able to make it, so we decided that one of our staff would fill in.
I quickly shared an idea with her dad, who was skeptical at best, but trusted me….well, I really didn’t give him much of a choice or time….
I called my new, best friend over and asked her if she would want to be my “special assistant”?
Her smile was the answer. I lead her and the other pallbearers to the back of the hearse and gave them instructions…at an eight year old level.
I had her take one of the middle positions, which can easily be handled by those not able to bear a lot of weight. I wish I could have taken my phone out to take a picture of this little girl, looking very serious, (but not sad/crying) walking behind her uncle and in front of her dad….helping carry her grandfather’s casket into church…..just as he may have helped carry her when she came there to be baptized..a beautiful analogy for all the pallbearers.
Once we got inside, we had to wait a minute of so for the opening chant to be completed. I explained to them how we were going to place the pall over the casket and that she was going to be in charge because we needed a ladies touch to get it just right.….big smile.
As Fr. Wilson began the opening prayers, we made eye contact and I gave her a subtle “thumbs-up”….. another big smile.
When the Mass was completed, we did everything in reverse and then, I had to leave because we had another funeral starting soon. Allen, our other director was going to take her grandfathers funeral to the cemetery. I had to go back to the funeral home.
I found my “special assistant” and got down on my knees to tell her that I had to leave and that I wanted to thank her for helping me and that I was very happy to be her friend. I kissed her forehead, got up, rubbed her head and smiled as she climbed back into the limousine.
As I walked the two blocks back to the funeral home, a few tears found their way to the sidewalk as I remembered the pain of my grandfathers death, but the joy of knowing that I may have made a difference in how this girl will view death/funerals for the rest of her life.
Maybe yesterday will help her not to be as afraid of funerals as she was when she first got there.
Maybe the adults came to understand how resilient young people can be?
Maybe I was able to plant a seed like Teddy Levandoski planted in me in August of 1974?
Maybe, just maybe, she might grow up and want to become an undertaker?
And all I did was my job.