My neighbour died last week. Another neighbour came over to break the news to me. She knew that I would want to hear, as I had always had a soft spot for him. It had been quick. He had gone to hospital Wednesday in distress and died before the day was out. The only thing left to do was schedule the funeral.
Larry was a sweet old man. He was 90, still lived in his own home, drove his own car, and took care of himself. Another neighbour cut his grass and took care of his pool. Many neighbours brought him over meals, pies, and treats of one sort or another. We always gave him some of whatever we baked. He loved his sweets and appreciated everything that people did for him. From what I could tell everyone liked him. I was sad to hear of his passing.
Today was the funeral. As Larry had been kind to me in days when my grief was most poignant, I felt I needed to go and pay my respects. I had never noticed his family visit much, but the gesture of saying goodbye is an important one to me, so I wanted to go. A visitation was held, followed immediately by the funeral. He was to be interned afterwards. I knew that the internment would be out of the question, as I had to pick the girls up from school, but I planned to attend the other events.
I drove to the church and said my hellos to the granddaughter that greeted me at the door. Larry was laid out in the next room with a few pictures nestled into the coffin with him. Death is never pretty, as the lifeblood that makes one real flesh and blood leaves the deceased withered and waxy. But I left a tear in his presence nonetheless. I took a seat in a pew off to one side and waited for the funeral to begin. A woman noticed me wipe my eyes though and approached to say hello. She was Larry's niece and looked like she needed a friend to talk to. We shared stories and I was convinced to sit in her aisle with her. Once the pianist played a few songs, the doors of the chapel were closed and the service began.
That is when I should have left.
I have been to many funerals. As much as they are sad affairs, they are held so that people can pay their respects to the deceased. They are an opportunity to start the closure of loss. This funeral was far from respectful though. And it certainly did nothing to honour the memory of the neighbour that I saw as a kindly elderly gentleman who was social, active and friendly with all he met.
The preacher took to the pulpit and began by reading a letter from the daughter-in-law, who was seated in the front pew. It was awful. Not only did it highlight the ugliness of Larry's final hours, but it cast Larry in a light I never would have imagined. We were told of his mother's young death, then the destitution that followed. His father put him in an orphanage, only to bring him home to a house of alcoholism and poverty. So the story went, it made Larry bitter. And it went on to say that he remained that way for the rest of his life.
As my fingers dug holes into my palms, I listened to Larry disparaged due to his lack of faith. His son and wife supposedly prayed for him to take Jesus into his heart, to no avail. It was his downfall and left him desperate to fill that whole with material possessions.
Now it wasn't a secret that Larry had a problem. He was a hoarder. Two years ago he had damage in his home because of flooding. Due to the sheer mountain of stuff in his home the cleanup took the better part of six months. He spent that time living in his trailer out of town. I never heard tell that his son ever offered to put him up during that time. Oh, but they prayed that he would release the devil in his soul!
Last I heard, hoarding was a mental illness though. Not a reason to castigate someone. Especially not at their funeral.
There was no mention of what Larry did for a living. No recount of how many years he was married to his wife. Nothing said about his love of dancing. I wanted to pipe up that he was blessed with another romance late in life that was sadly cut short by his fiance's death on the day Larry asked her to marry him. And gee, he was 90 years old, living on his own, still able to walk and drive (not well, but its hard to let go of that independence) and visit with his neighbours when the mood struck him.
No, we were told that despite Larry having made his family's life miserable for so many years by refusing to take up their faith, they finally won. As Larry lay dying, wracked by painful seizures that apparently terrified him, he finally saw the light. After yet another seizure, he "saw the light" that was Jesus. And then his fear left him. And he died.
The cynic in me thinks that the tidy summation of Larry's awful existence was probably not exactly accurate. I offer no disrespect to those who have experienced this first-hand, but after listening to all the awful things said, I couldn't stomach the moral of the story - that we all must accept Jesus into our heart or be left to live eternity in hell. No heaven for any disbelievers or sinners. What about Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and others? No Jesus - no heaven.
I wanted to leave. It galled me to sit and listen to them bash this dear man that had helped rake my lawn at the age of 83 years old because he saw me crying in fresh grief with rake in hand over a leaf pile. Local bank tellers had spoken of him in glowing terms for goodness sake. And all they could see was a bitter old man that I am sure they are glad to be rid of.
Well, I made it through the service, despite my seething brain. And tonight I toasted Larry with fellow neighbours that had attended the funeral and were equally shocked by the things said and manner that Larry's death had been handled. We all deserve better than that. As my neighbour said, "they could have just stated facts if they didn't have anything nice to say." But I guess their god lets them feel justified in their ugly actions. I for one want nothing to do with their religion, if it is that judgemental and cold.
... end rant