Friday, March 23, 2012

Deader Than A Hammer

You learn to pick-up on the clues. The little hints. My first one came when I entered the funeral home and the 4 funeral directors saw me and scattered like roaches. When they avoid you ... it is for a reason.

I walked into the viewing room at the funeral home. It was empty save for a lone body encased in a wooden casket at the front of the room. The gentleman inside looked like he had lived a hard life. I glanced around for a family. Though the visitation had been going on for half an hour I was the only one present. Odd to say the least. I walked the perimeter looking at a video presentation of the mans life. I read the notes on the flowers. Finally a man in his mid-twenties entered. I introduced myself and asked who he was. It was his father in the box. I asked if I could talk to him about his dad. He spoke two words before walking out. "H*** no."

In a few minutes a young couple entered. They looked hardened. Like life had not been very good to them. Or perhaps they had not been very good to life. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. I introduced myself and discovered that this was another son. I asked the same question and received a somewhat exasperated sigh followed by, "In a few minutes." And they were gone.

I took a seat and waited. The young man appeared alone 15 minutes later. He sat on the same sofa I was one. He let out a masterful 10 second belch that was alcohol tainted. Turning in my direction he said, "Okay. Let's shoot the s***." This wasn't going as I had planned. I began asking questions about his dad and their family. The son was not a student of the King's English. When I asked how many kids were in the family his reply caused him to jab his finger into the air as if he were picturing them. He counted out loud ... "one ... two ... three ... four ... five ... six ... ... ... Oh, h###, just call it four."

Four it is.

I asked what his father enjoyed doing. Did he have any hobbies? "My old man was a Moose. And he was a roofer. He was the best d### roofer I've ever seen. And I'm a roofer myself. He was a good man and he loved God. And Jesus too. Right now I know where he is. He's sitting with my mom up in heaven, drinking some beers and smoken some cigarettes by that stream every one always talk about." I decided not to debate that issue.

This conversation was going nowhere but it was making good time. I closed by asking what his father had died of. "H### if I know! We were sitting up in his room shooting the s### (evidently this family loves to shoot) and I turned to get a drink of my beer. When I turned back he was face down and deader than a hammer." I have subsequently checked and let it go on record that hammers are exquisitely dead. Or as the famous Wizard of Oz quote goes, "and she's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead." Only in this case she is a he.

Before leaving I asked if there would be any music being performed at the service. The son told me that he had given all of that to the funeral director. I made my way to his office, finding 4 of them fidgeting around a desk, averting their eyes. Afraid to make contact with me. I broke the silence and enquired about the music for tomorrow. That is when everything blew. The laughter was immediate. Loud. Raucous. I moved quickly to close the door. This was the kind of laughter that had them doubled over the desk gasping for breath. I didn't "get" it. Then they gave me the playlist. Tomorrow's funeral "hymns" would include ...

-Bob Seger peforming "Turn The Page."
-Aerosmith and "Dream On."
-The Eagles and that toe tapping favorite, "Hotel California."
-And the benediction would be sung by the Reverend Ozzie Osborn with "Good-Bye To Romance."

No sign of "The Old Rugged Cross."

I cleared my throat, told them that I had seen worse (I have) and that everybody deserves to be served when they are grieving. I would see them in the morning. As I left they were doubled over the desk again ...

The morning dawned rainy and gray. And for the skeptics among you, yes I know that for a fact as I was, indeed, awake for it. At the appointed hour I made my way to the home for funerals and once again found myself alone. Eventually the lead funeral director entered and told me the family would be there in a few minutes. Time passed quickly and uneventfully. Eventually I found myself in a room that smelled of cheap booze and cheaper cigarettes. I read appropriate scripture. We listened to the entire play list. I waited patiently. And finally the time had come. I stood up, walked to the podium, and looked out at the family and friends. Their number was about 20.

What to do.

I don't do this often but I folded my notes, closed my bible, and walked away from the podium coming to a stop between the congregation and the casket. A quick prayer was whispered in the silence of my own mind and we dived in.

"Thanks for letting me come and serve you today. I know that you hurt. It's in your eyes. But can we talk? I don't like death very much. Neither do you. Neither did Carl (not the real name of the deceased,) But it is something we have to deal with today. And you all know who I am and you think you know what I do for a living. I need you to know that you are wrong. Yes, I am a pastor. But you think that I spend my time telling people that they should be better and that they shouldn't sin so much. I don't really do that. It isn't that I don't think those things are true. It's just that I've been doing this long enough to know that, even if I tell you that, you won't do it. Actually, you won't be ABLE to do it. We're all messed up. Yes, I said we. I'm messed up too. And I've learned that it's far better to tell people that Jesus knows they are messed up but if we will come to Him and admit it, if we will tell Him that we are sorry they we messed up, and tell them that we would really like Him to forgive us for being messed up ... well ... He will. And I think you need to know that. I didn't know Carl. So I don't hurt like you do. But I get to see my fair share of death and I hate it. I also know how to deal with it. You deal with it by looking it square in the eye and telling it that because Jesus loves you and died for your sins you aren't afraid of it anymore. Of course, you can only say that if it's true. And it is for me. Is it for you? If it isn't, I think Carl would want me to tell you how you can fix that."

And it took about 20 minutes. And they cried. Loudly. And some had to leave the room. Some fell from their seats into the arms of those sitting next to them. I didn't let it stop me or distract me. Pagan's really know how to grieve. And that's good. Because it means they are really in need of hope and help. That's where we come in. We get to tell them. With apologies to The Eagles, we will all check out someday. And if we trust Jesus ... we WILL leave. We'll go home. To Him. In heaven. Forever.

And that, my friends, isn't just shooting the ....


Pamalot said...

Yes my friend, that is one for the record books.

Doug Clark said...

Well done, sir! I don't think Billy Graham could have done better. And they got the Gospel in terms they could understand.

The Dashboard Poet said...

I've done my share of funerals that, to this day, make me shake my head wondering..."huh? What just happened?" I've seen caskets packed with beer, the dearly departed dressed like Jimmy Buffet on a really bad day. They would have inluded ice, but come on....did anybody seriously think it would last long in all those flames? I know...shouldn't judge. But seriously. I did one funeral where the grieving family insisted we trudge back to the grave side SIX TIMES to perform a do-over of the commital ceremony. I hate death as well...but mostly because it makes the (usually lost) survivors behave in ways that must embarrass even the devil. And that ain't easy. Just sayin'.