Only in the time of a global pandemic would we experience a funeral such as the one I write about here. The family had said good-bye and buried their beloved one morning in a small, private service. Friends were invited to visit the graveside in a “drive-through” memorial that same evening, keeping inside their vehicles, and leaving condolence cards in a basket. This Good Friday as my family read the story of Jesus’ death, the following phrase stood out to me in a more poignant way: “Some women were standing at a distance from the cross, watching” (Mark 15:40a). Their love was not diminished by their distance, nor was their pain.
I am a one-car funeral procession on this bright spring evening. From the west, golden sunshine pours down across emerald fields as I wind my way through the hills from home, to the cemetery, and back again.
I have donned my funereal black and gray. I have combed smooth my hair, and put in small hoop earrings. But when I get to the church I don’t park and go in for a service. Instead, I guide the car along a small loop road among the tombstones. I will not see the family. I will give no hugs. I will hear no scriptures and sing no songs, though the latter is not strictly forbidden I suppose.
I am here solely to honor the dead by way of my mere presence for a few moments, to see the earth disturbed where the body was laid, to acknowledge that the life lived had touched mine and I was grateful for it.
I scroll down my car window. A pastor keeps vigil by the grave site, officiating the briefest of service with each mourner in this drive-through funeral. He says, “thanks for coming,” and I say thank-you too. I comment inanely on the glorious weather. I look at the rectangle of gently trampled grass, and I think of the cold body of someone I knew and loved lying there, irrevocably gone. I think of how quickly the grass will spread its white roots to reclaim this plot, weaving lush green arms to lock the dead in eternal embrace. As I pull away, tears are falling.
Tears keep falling as I make my way home past all the same emerald fields washed in golden sunlight. It just so happens that this is the kind of quintessential spring evening in which one longs to simply sit in the grass and soak up that golden elixir, a healing draft in the wake of winter. Daffodils are in bloom, tulips too. Fruit trees of all kinds display pale white and pink blossoms along their arms. In the meadows wild mustard dons its jaunty yellow crown. A small lake gives back a pure, clear reflection of red barn, bright green grass, scattered clouds in blue sky.
As my tires finally crunch up the gravel lane through the woods to my own home I take special note of the wildflowers blooming among the feet of the trees; delicate rue anemones, milk-white bloodroot, little jewels of violets, and sturdy clusters of saxifrage. It is cliché, I know, but I am still thinking about death and life and how brief it all is, like a wildflower’s season in early spring. The trout lilies, for instance, have already bowed their pale yellow heads back to the ground, and only a few of the bloodroot flowers maintain their complete set of petals, cupped in a solitary leaf for a cloak. So quickly they bloom, so soon they fade.
What is there to do then, but to bloom furiously in season, face turned joyfully to the sun? And to look about at those who bloom alongside us, acknowledging and appreciating their beauty while it all lasts.
with love, Anita