When you stop to think about it, the sad business of funerals hasn’t changed much across the years. I don’t remember my paternal great grandfather, but I remember events associated to his funeral. Whether I had ever been to his home before, I can’t tell you. I simply don’t remember. However, I do remember the family gathering with other extended family members at his home just prior to his funeral.
The year was 1952. When you stop to think about it that was a long time ago. I was only five years old at the time. The thing I most remember about that experience is the open casket containing his body. It was on display in the family’s home. I didn’t get too close, but I got close enough that the memory has stayed with me for the past sixty-five years.
Apparently the family gathering was a Kodak moment for family members as they arrived. I know that only because I have a copy of our family’s picture as well as that of my grandparents and my uncle’s family. The pictures were taken outside in the front yard of their home. I came to have them in my possession following the death of my parents.
As I recall, my great grandfather’s home was a nondescript house with a wooden picket fence. I don’t remember if the fence was painted white or if it was simply weathered wood. Perhaps it was both.
When we built our first home in Henly, I surrounded the front yard with a white picket fence. I wanted our home to look like it had withstood the test of time rather than a newly constructed house. A friend in Henly helped me cut the pine pickets with his table saw and jigsaw, but building the fence was a project all my own. The look was picturesque, but picturesque only lasts for a few years before it is time for another coat or two of white paint. Failure to provide it doesn’t play out well in terms of looks and overall appearance.
When we built our second home in Henly, it too was built with the hope that it would look like it had withstood the test of time. They say you live and you learn. Maybe that’s true. I didn’t consider another picket fence to border our lawn. A white picket fence is simply too labor intensive to keep it looking good. Consequently, I opted to go with a vintage wire fence that also has the look of long ago. I recently learned that they don’t make fencing like that anymore.
I’ve seen picket fences around property that no longer gleam with glossy white paint. They appear weathered and worn and from casual observance it is difficult to know that they were ever once painted. Somehow in the resources of my memory, I have the thought that the picket fence around my great grandfather’s home was like that. It was old and worn and needed paint, but I could be mistaken. I was just a little kid at the time.
Sometimes when death comes, the loved one is like my great paternal grandfather. He had lived a long life and folks were of the mindset that death was a natural progression to the hereafter. I’m certain there must have been expressions of sadness, but from the vantage point of my five-year-old existence Great Grandpa Forrester was a stranger to me. I really didn’t know him. Consequently, his loss didn’t have a direct impact on my life other than the memory of his funeral.
During my childhood years, my family lived six and a half hours away from the place where my dad grew up. My paternal grandparents moved to Odessa shortly after my dad did, so they were no longer in the locality where my dad grew up. Consequently, when my immediate family made a six and a half hour road trip in somewhat close proximity to my dad’s old home place, it was to the home of my maternal grandparents. I don’t recall that we ever went to visit my dad’s grandparents. That’s not to say that my dad didn’t. I really don’t remember. I do know that if I’d been given a choice, I’d have opted to stay at my maternal grandparent’s home where I had the good fortune to play with cousins in the area rather than opt to visit people I didn’t know even if they were family members. Writing these words down, I now vaguely remember that dad would devote an afternoon to visit his grandparents on occasion.
Truthfully other than the fact that my granddad’s father died, his death didn’t seem to tangibly impact my granddad or our family. At least from the perspective of being a small child, it was a non-event. I realize now from what I know about the grief experience that I over simplified the process. I guess I just thought maybe we came from old stock where a utilitarian mindset and acceptance of what life brought one’s way seemed like the only option.
That reminds me of Robert Frost’s poem entitled “Out, Out”. It chronicles the tragic death of a young lad who took on a man’s work and accidently got too close to a buzz saw. Because of the accidental loss of his hand, he bled to death. According to the poem, life went on for his family almost as though nothing had happened. It was that “utilitarian, down-to-earth, work ethic” approach to living that simply accepted the inevitable and moved on. Frost expressed it this way: “The doctor put him in the dark of ether. He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath. And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright. No one believed. They listened at his heart. Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it. No more to build on there. And they, since they Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs”.
Since I didn’t know my paternal great grandfather, his death didn’t have an appreciable impact on my life. Like I said, as a five year old I was very naïve. However, if you subtract that experience by a generation and add in the subsequent losses of loved ones since that time, I have a very different understanding now.
I was thirteen year’s old when my mother’s youngest brother died. He was twenty-seven at the time. In today’s world, his cancer would have been treatable, but in 1959 treatment options were mostly non-existent. His death was preceded by six years of mostly surgical treatments and in and out of the hospital experiences. His death represented many things for our family. For me it also represented a loss of innocence from the protective shroud associated to my childhood. It was a time of great sadness for our family. It was the first loss of a loved one that I really personally experienced. Ours was a strong relationship. My uncle was someone I loved and cared about. His death hit hard.
That loss set the clockwork in motion to realize that the death of a loved one is never an easy experience. The grief process is always painful and never quickly resolved or negotiated. Many of you, like me, have lived long enough that by now you have stood next to a fresh grave and bid farewell to more family members and friends than you’d like to count.
When death takes away those thought dear, it is painful to those left behind. Take my grandparents for example. They were an active part of my growing up years and throughout my pilgrimage from young-to-mid adulthood. Their memory continues to resonate in the resources of all that I hold dear.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons the message of Easter ranks high on my list of life’s essentials. Yesterday I received a Facebook request from someone I didn’t personally know. I am tied in to a Facebook group and I recognized the picture of the man who sent the friend request. No sooner had I accepted his invite than I received a “Good Morning – How are you?” message.
Next came the question: “Have you heard the good news?” I thoughtfully replied, “If you’re talking about Easter, the answer is yes. However, I am a fan of good news where ever I can find it. If you have something else in mind, please let me know.”
Springtime is my favorite time of the year. It is my favorite time of the year because nature vividly showcases the message of Easter. Springtime brings with it the emergence of new life from that which previously appeared lifeless. It is a most welcoming sight to behold.
If you’ve ever stood by the fresh grave of a loved one and remembered the words of Christ, you know the hope that I’m talking about. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die”.
If you’ve ever struggled with thoughts of your own mortality following the most unwelcoming of news from your doctor, then you know the importance of hope. Eternal hope is ours through faith in Christ. Scripture records the story of the resurrection and the benefits provided:
John 1:4 – In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.
John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 5:21 – For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He wishes.
We’ve become so accustomed to the story of Easter that we often fail to process the impact it brought to that first generation. Initially, they only focused on the death of the One they cared about. In short order, they moved from that mindset to attempting to piece the fabric of their own lives back together. Perhaps their confusion and misunderstanding was as alien to truth as my thoughts concerning the death of my great grandfather. There first response was to take a utilitarian, down-to-earth, work ethic and they went back to their boats, back to fishing and back to their former lives.
The part of the story they didn’t anticipate was the resurrection. At least eight times in a three-year period, Christ had attempted to make the message clear. Somehow they still missed it. But when truth became evident, it completely turned their lives upside down and provided a level of hope previously not experienced.
In closing I’d like to share the poem entitled: “When Tomorrow Starts Without Me” by David M. Romano:
WHEN TOMORROW STARTS WITHOUT ME
When tomorrow starts without me
And I’m not here to see
If the sun should rise and find your eyes
All filled with tears for me
I wish you wouldn’t cry
The Way you did today
While thinking of the many things
We did not get to say
I know how much you love me
As much as I love you
Each time that you think of me
I know you will miss me too
When tomorrow starts with out me
Please try to understand
That an angel came and called my name
And took me by the hand
The angel said my place was ready
In heaven far above
And That I would have to leave behind
All those I Dearly Love
But When I walked through Heaven’s Gates
I felt so much at home
When GOD looked down and smiled at me
From his golden throne
He said This Is Eternity
And All I promised you
Today for life on earth is done
But Here it starts a new
I promise no tomorrow
For today will always last
And Since each day’s the exact same way
There is no longing for the past
So When Tomorrow starts without me
Do not think we’re apart
For every time you think of me
Remember I’m right here in your heart
He lives and that reality makes standing next to a fresh grave not nearly some overwhelming because of the hope that is our through Christ.