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Friday, June 29, 2012

A Tale of Two Funerals

Some years ago I attended the funeral of an older person in our community who had been living alone for many years following the death of her husband.

She was in her 80’s, and one day her pastor found her in her home, badly dehydrated and completely incapacitated by a stroke. She had been unable to call anyone for help, and had been in that state for several days before anyone thought to check on her. She then died within hours of being taken to the hospital.

Here was a wonderful woman who had been very active in her church and community all her life, and yet who nearly died alone. And there were a mere 100 people at her funeral, held on a Sunday afternoon. Actually that is not a bad number for someone of her age in our area, though most of those attending looked to be in their sixties or older. I saw only one child in the service.

I felt sad that she had to die the way she did, and that there weren’t even more people at her memorial service.

Not long after that, I attended another funeral, that of one of uncles, Tobe Yoder, also in his 80’s. It was held at the Beachy Amish Church near Stuarts Draft where I was once a member before I went to Harrisonburg to go to college at 21.

What impressed me was what Tobe's funeral said about the strength of that group’s community life. It was held on a weekday morning, but not only were my uncle’s relatives there in large numbers, but practically every other member of his congregation, including children of all ages. Their church run school was closed for the day.

And this wasn’t because he was some kind of exceptional person. He never held important leadership positions in his church, and was just a quiet, committed member of the congregational family he loved and served all his life.

A choir of some 40 people made up of his sons- and daughters-in-law and of his grandchildren sang some of his favorite numbers at his funeral, and the youth group of his church, some thirty strong, sang at the graveside, as his friends and family members took turns solemnly covering the grave.

I thought to myself, “What a way to die,” “What a rich man,” not rich monetarily, but in relationships, having investing in his family and his church family all of his life.

And the payoff was great. His six children, my cousins, have all turned out amazingly well, and each have healthy, sturdy families of their own. And his family, like ours, were powerfully influenced, and raised, not just by their parents, but by that larger faith community of people who were our people, who became our mentors, who met not just for Sunday morning services, but for Sunday dinners, for picnics, for Sunday evening singings. We worked and enjoyed good meals with each other at harvest times and at “frolics,” the name we used for any kind of building projects, barn or house raisings and other projects fellow members could get together for.

Funerals, like those of my uncle, were just one more way opportunity to show each other we cared, and to celebrate our common life by showing up when one of our number passed on.
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