Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Funeral in a Small Town

It's a morning funeral held in the Methodist Church. People begin to arrive and are escorted to their seats by a funeral home employee. No one sits in the front rows which have been saved for the family. The people are not from any particular church but from the total community. Everyone knows each other in this small town and although they don't always get along, they do stand up for each other in times of need. They chatter softly while waiting for the service to begin.

Choir members begin to file in from a side entrance. The Baptist minister and a Methodist lay speaker take seats on either side of the pulpit. The pianist plays a variety of old time and well loved hymns.

The music stops, the preacher stands and says, "Please rise for the family." Everyone stands. The funeral home people walk to the front of the church followed by the family. When they are all seated, the preacher speaks again. "You may be seated."

The Methodist lay speaker begins with prayer. He continues with a eulogy, beginning with the day the Lord spoke Beulah's name and brought her into existence. It's a celebration of Beulah's life with funny stories, touching memories, and a testimony to the impact she made as she lived her 81 years.

As the lay speaker sits, the choir stands and belts out "I'll Fly Away."

Some glad morning when this life is o'er, I'll fly away; to a home on God's celestial shore, I'll fly away...

The choir sits, the preacher stands and walks to the pulpit to deliver his sermon of comfort and exhortation. Though our hearts are breaking, we can rest assured that Beulah has completed her journey home. No more pain nor tears for her, such as that are left for the living.

After another song, the casket is opened. Row by row friends file by the casket to say goodbye to Beulah, shake hands with the preacher and greet, hug, and cry with the family. The people continue to fill the yard outside of the church. Finally, only family is left in the church. They take their time to say goodbye to their loved one.

The casket is brought out of the church and loaded into the hearse. The family follows and fills several vehicles. Friends get in their cars and the procession to the cemetery begins.

While the others are gone to bury Beulah, the church ladies prepare the meal. The buffet table is loaded with meats and vegetables, salads, breads, fresh fruit and assorted side dishes all provided by the community cooks. These country ladies and gents know how to put on a feast. It takes another table to hold all the deserts: cakes, pies, sweet breads, cookies, does one ever choose?

When the family arrives back from the cemetery, the Methodist ladies fill glasses with iced tea, water and orange soda (for the kids). The preacher prays. At the sound of "Amen" it is time to eat. People file down both sides of the table. Most plates are full before they make it to the end of the table. "Oh well, I'll have to come back for seconds after I eat this."

There is talking and laughter. A sad time to be together, but a good time to be together. The family expresses gratitude for the meal. The ladies tell them it is a group project, everyone in the community helped. And it is our pleasure to do so.

The family begins to leave, laden with containers of food for later, more hugging, smiles and tears. All that is left is cleanup. The Methodist crew (there are boys and men who help) finds homes for the remaining food, washes dishes and tables, puts away the clean dishes and condiments, takes out the trash, gathers up table cloths and dish towels to take home to launder, pushes in chairs and gets Fellowship Hall ready for the next event.

Lights out, alarm on, we leave our church to go out and carry on.

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