On Sunday, February 9, I attended a graveside service for a young cousin. He shouldn’t have died so young; no one really expected him to. We all take life for granted until it is snatched from us or from someone we love. Psalm 90:10 says that “the days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” At only forty, he had not come close to his three score and ten years before he flew away. He had been a bit under the weather for a few days, but no one had considered it really serious until he keeled over with a massive heart attack. Yet on that day, he was dead before anyone could so much as call the paramedics. His family tumbled immediately into a state of shock and grief.
More shock was awaiting them though. He had no insurance, so all the expenses associated with death and burial fell upon his survivors, none of whom are wealthy. His disabled mother eking out a living on social security couldn’t handle those expenses. His father died several years ago, but even had he been alive, he too lived on social security. Siblings struggling to support themselves and their families on their meager salaries, were willing to help, but with what? This family then did what real families have done since time immemorial—they did it themselves. Who better to bury young John than his loved ones? They had been the ones to gather around and welcome him into this life; fittingly they should be the ones to gather around to bid him farewell and to give him a proper send off.
The family assembled and asked the funeral director to provide only the least expensive and absolutely necessary services. They found cremation to be far cheaper than a funeral service with a casket, vault, head stone, and funeral. I don’t know what the family paid, but my research tells me that prices for cremation in this area range from as little as $500 to as much as $3000, depending on whether the funeral home makes the arrangements or the family makes them directly with the crematorium. When the urn or box with the ashes returns to the family, they handle whatever ceremony they want.
Cremation is certainly an honorable way of disposing of these earthly remains. The rite has been practiced for centuries. Homer’s Iliad speaks eloquently and in great detail of funeral pyres for the great heroes of the time.
Nonetheless, in this year of our Lord 2014, funeral practices have changed. Families often put themselves into great debt for lavish caskets and services they really cannot afford. At John’s service, his family sat on borrowed chairs to avoid the funeral home’s charges. A local church lent the chairs and the brothers hauled them to the cemetery and then back to the church. A preacher friend of the family spoke words of grace and comfort at the side of the grave, which the brothers Samuel and Herbert had dug with their own shovels brought from homes. Their sweat fell into the grave as they worked on that unseasonably warm day, but they didn’t mind. In addition to the preacher, an uncle spoke a few words and shed some tears.
At some time during the service, the mother released a golden balloon exactly at John’s sister released a matching balloon bouquet. The rest of us watched solemnly as the balloons floated high into the cloudless blue sky and drifted slowly out of sight. A small girl, John’s niece, stood with her head titled back and pointed at the balloons until they disappeared from sight.
The moving strains of “Go Rest High on that Mountain” filled our ears and came from a recording that the family had provided. What a beautiful song and a beautiful service. I don’t think I’ve ever attended a more touching one.