My cousin Steve is a funeral director. Years ago, we would have called him an undertaker. After that, a mortician.
Now, he’s a funeral director.
With each generation, we are learning to show people like Steve the dignity and respect their vocation deserves.
I bring all this up because, just before Easter, my Aunt Cleone passed away.
Cleone was Steve’s mother.
For decades, Steve has prepared the bodies of our aunts and uncles for burial — my two parents included. But for Steve, this was different. It was, as they say, as up close and personal as life can get.
I would have been traumatized.
Steve told my wife he saw it as a privilege.
Like so many Americans, I try to keep my dealings with death at arm’s length. I read about the woman with ointment readying Jesus for the tomb or hear about pioneer families preparing bodies for burial, and I shudder.
Despite talk of “happy reunions” in heaven and such, I’ve found the less I think about death, the better.
That’s why Steve and his mother, Cleone, have a lot to teach me.
To begin with, we’ve been told to preach the gospel at funerals and not just share memories. But Cleone’s life was interlaced with the gospel. So, at her funeral, reminiscing about the things she did and preaching the gospel became one and the same thing.
Her life was the gospel in action.
That’s why the bishop, in his remarks, said despite the sadness and tears, there was a celebratory feel to Cleone’s funeral.
And being a part of that celebration of her life helped ease my troubled mind.
It was the Christian writer Henri Nouwen who said his mother’s death was really, in the end, a gift to those left behind. In her death, he said, she not only brought everyone together to reflect on her worthy life but, once together, they found love and worth in their own lives and the lives around them.
Something like that happened with Aunt Cleone.
As for Steve, it goes without saying he made his mother look radiant. She shone with the goodness we had all come to know. As I looked at her, I realized that, like the woman with oinment at the tomb of Jesus, Steve had shared a connection with her in death that few will ever get to know.
The bonds of death are real. But they can also be a form of bonding, if a person is wise enough and brave enough to allow it to happen.
Steve had done that.
As I near my own rendezvous with cousin Steve, that is a lesson I, too, am slowly learning.