I recently attended my first graveside burial service. The father of a students in my youth group had passed after a long struggle with cancer. The ripple it sent through every student began the moment I told the first group of students about it. It only took seconds for the tears to come as they put an arm around each other. One student ran and as I caught her, she simply buried her head on my shoulder and sobbed. My own emotions and well-being took a back seat as I not only had a student whose father had passed, but an entire youth group in mourning to care for. No one knew what to do, but they knew they didn’t want to be alone.
The following Saturday morning was the burial service. I stood in the back of the graveside service with the students as we watched the casket be placed in the earth. Again, silence. No one knew what to say or do, just didn’t want to be alone. We spent the afternoon together before attending the memorial service. I took the students with plans to drop them off and blend into the crowd as I made my way out, thinking no one would notice whether I was there or not. It had been a long week helping students try to make sense of everything and I was feeling selfish. I went in with them to make sure they were comfortable and decided to sit in the balcony for just a few minutes before heading out. My job was done.
I’ve often been told that funeral’s aren’t as much about the deceased and their immediate family as it is about all of the other people whose lives are impacted. I listened as several people close to the family took turns sharing how great a friend, husband, father, brother, son, and co-worker this man was. They told stories remembering the impact that had been made in each of their lives. I wasn’t prepared for the moment that the man’s best friend from college turned to the son who is in my youth group and said through tears “You’re dad loved you more than you will ever know. Not being able to spend time with you this past year hurt him more than the cancer. I’m sorry.”
My wall was gone as tears rolled down my cheeks. Tears come to my eyes now as I write. A mixture of thoughts raced through my head. What would I do without my dad? What would my boys do if they lost me? What questions would be unanswered? How would my life or the life of my boys be different without that influence? How would you explain it?
I stayed for the entire service, trying to compose myself to once again be strong enough for the youth. When I got to the lobby of the church the student was standing there waiting for the rest of the family. He saw me and came to give me a hug. I needed that hug as much as he did.
It’s amazing how we let the busyness and routine of life take away our perspective. We lose our appreciation for people. I went home that evening and gave my boys a bath, then sat on the couch and read stories. I didn’t want to miss a minute. I wanted them to have the memory of me taking the time to be with them.
Death is inescapable. I wish death on no one and pray for eternity so that the pain and suffering of this world would stop so that I wouldn’t have to bury friends, family, and pets. But death is also a reminder of the vibrancy of life. how precious and passing it can be. It helps us put perspective on those precious moments we too often take for granted.