To Comfort the Bereaved...
Six weeks after my husband died (Feb. 15, 1996), Sidney's father passed away. At that time, Sidney had been my "Girl Friday" in my office for 16 years. I really needed to be there for her, even though I felt emotionally unstable to go to another funeral so soon after Jack's. Many people have this difficulty. My father never attended another funeral after my mother's. He felt he would be experiencing hers all over again.
I stopped at the chapel entrance. Sidney and Connie had worked most of the night to create flower arrangements and the gorgeous spray on the open casket at the end of the center aisle. Physical weakness prevented me from walking further. I sat on the back pew. Into the service, I was glad I came. There was comfort and joy in renewed assurances that both Jack and Sidney's father were in Heaven. My faith was strengthened.
I have reached that state of my life where death is all around me. I lose friends and loved ones frequently. Death becomes a reality. It lurks behind many of my fears. I fear the death of my way of life. Even Jesus loved His life on earth. I fear the death of unfulfilled dreams; and yes, physical death coming too soon. By attending funerals, I am reaffirmed of the blessed hope of eternal life. It is necessary to be reminded often of our beliefs just as it is necessary to be told often that we are loved.
To help in dealing with death, I recommend going to funerals. They are for the living--not the dead. Many times they are a turning point in the lives of those attending. You'll be a comfort to the bereaved as you share your losses and acknowledge the deceased's gain. A long life or a short life are of equal importance to God. Time does not heal--it's what I do with my time that heals.
Kathryn Clarke was the closest friend in my life. I could never say "no" to her. We did a lot of things together as we served the Lord. Jesus is walking the earth today in the hearts of those who believe in Him. Kathryn was president of our Womens' Missionary Union. I was the Sunday School teacher of women my age and over. Kathryn was in my class.
She called me one evening saying, "Frances' mother died. The funeral will be in Grapevine, Texas tomorrow, and I want you to go with me. I'm going to call others in our class and see if I can get a carload to go. We'll leave about six o'clock in the morning, to get there about noon. The funeral is at two o'clock. I'll see you in the morning." That was Kathryn! It would never have entered her mind that I would not want to go!! I never said "no" to my very best friend. Frances was in our Sunday School class.
I was fuming! It's the middle of July, and HOT, Hot, hot. This was in the early 1950's, before freeways and air conditioned cars. Grapevine was about 25 miles northwest of Dallas, and I-45 was a two lane highway. "Besides," I continued talking to myself, "I don't even know Frances' mother! Why would I want to take a long hot ride to a stranger's funeral? It just didn't make sense." Six women made this trip. We drove through Grapevine and many miles down a dusty red dirt road until we came to the old gray farm house. Several men were sitting in the shade of a big oak tree in the front yard, where the grass was scarce. Frances peeked out the screen door as we exited the car. Upon recognizing us, she ran into Kathryn's arms; and then gave a big tight hug to each one of us. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she said, "I can't believe you all loved me enough to come. This is so very wonderful. You'll never know what this means to me."
My bones melted! I was so humbled to be there and share in this blessing. I tell you, it's tough growing up to be a Christian! There are so many lessons along the way. I'm still in the learning process. Kathryn knew how to show caring and loving. I learned a great lesson: the purpose of a funeral is to comfort the bereaved. For the rest of my life, I've wanted to do that again. It never happened. Kathryn died April 15, 1988.
I can never forget my beloved friend Ralph Kirk's funeral in 1994. We left the chapel. His casket was brought to the gravesite and that part of the service ended. Then his six sons-in-law, scattered among the mourners, shouted praises to God in prayer one by one, thanking Him for Ralph's involvement in their lives; thanking Jesus for eternal life; acknowledging our meeting again some day in the heavenly realm. As I stood in that simple place, the presence of God was very real. The most powerful prayer meeting I ever attended was around this grave.
An unforgettable message was left by another beloved friend Evelyn Oldham at her funeral. The memorial services ended. The pallbearers slowly rolled the casket on its stand down the church aisle. Everything was very, very quiet. When they were halfway to the exit, a trumpet split the silence loudly playing just five notes of the title of a familiar song: "TURN YOUR EYES UPON JESUS." The church was consumed in quietness again. God's presence overwhelmed us. Evelyn left an impressive last message:
"Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."
I am always drawn closer to God at a funeral service.
J. P. Parks, a deacon in our church, died June 18, 2001. At his funeral, we were told that he asked everyone he met, "How's your faith in the Lord?" His nephew testified that his first Bible was a gift from Uncle J. P., who wrote on the flyleaf that the Bible was the best guide for life, followed by Romans 10:9-13, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture saith, whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."
One year later, this nephew (Stuart Bishop) was in college when he accepted Jesus as his Saviour. Billy Graham said, "We will all go on the trip to eternity; and we make the choice of the type of reservations we will have to determine our destiny."
Even if Christ had not been raised from the dead--and He really was; there were hundreds of witnesses--I would choose to live the Christian life because it is still the best way to live. I could not imagine what it would be like to live in a world without people who are believers in God and His Son, Jesus Christ; and the hope of everlasting life.
> To comfort the bereaved...