In the middle of a May week full of parties and ceremonies to commemorate achievement and new beginnings, I received notice of a friend’s death. The wedding date was saved months ago, the ordination service announced weeks ago, and my friend, a doctoral student, targeted this graduation ceremony two years ago. But Kendall’s funeral wasn’t penciled in, he didn’t know his 54-year-old heart would quit last week.
Into a time of balloons, cakes, cheers, smiles and forward-facing optimism landed this backward-facing service filled with damp cheeks, black clothing and wads of Kleenex. To move from celebrating longed-for transitions to a remembrance of the final transition was like the jerk of a wooden roller coaster when the chain grabs the underside of your car at the base of the steep incline. The track rises ahead and you know this section is part of the journey, but the sudden motion and the gears grinding still surprises and sharpens the senses.
At the graveside, time slowed and the brain registered details in HD. Family members and the elderly sat in two rows of green-velour draped chairs alongside the elevated casket. Splays of flowers on the casket lid infused the color dissipated by the light gray skies, and the song of a love-hungry bird mingled with and occasionally drowned out the pastor’s words. Perched high in a nearby tree whose leaves needed more warm days before they’d open, Mr. Crooner sang, unaffected by the crowd and solemn service below.
Throughout the observance, two butterflies slalomed among the stooped shoulders like dancing shards of light from a stained glass window. We stood with bowed heads and sorrowful hearts, and they swooped and twirled in search of springtime nectar. We had stopped our routines to gather and honor this kind soul who encouraged others and loved God and his creation, and God sent his creatures to join us.
King David’s vignettes from Psalm 103, read at the funeral home, played at the outdoor screening room. The open grave spoke, “You are dust; your mortal life is like grass. You flourish briefly like a flower until the wind blows away its memory.” The songbird provided the soundtrack of praises to the Lord, and the butterflies a Disney touch. The open Bible reminded, “Your life has been redeemed from the pit, and God’s love is as high as these gray skies above the springtime earth.” And the mourners’ compassion for the widow and fatherless son mirrored the Father’s compassion.
We wept knowing Kendall’s youth won’t be restored like the eagle’s in this lifetime; there won’t be a Lazarus incident in Illinois this weekend. But in the lush cemetery dotted with stone markers of end, death, and finitude, faith, hope and love made an appearance. Invisible at times through our pain and grief and loss, they are with us everywhere and in all things–sometimes disguised as a songbird or a butterfly.