I had the great privilege of singing at two funerals this week. Yes, that's right, I said privilege. Being in my church choir, I try to add my voice when possible, although since I work fulltime, I cannot attend many of the funerals that fall on weekdays. But I go when I can. And it really is an honour, not a burden, to share in these celebrations of life.
In the case of the two funerals this week, I didn't know either of the people beforehand, but came to know a part of them through the stories and reflections shared during the services.
The first service was on Thursday morning, for a gentleman who had died from cancer. I am fairly well acquainted with his widow, as she is envelope secretary at my church, but not sure if I ever met him or not. What wonderfully joyful and uplifting music was chosen for this service...I said to Phyllis (a fellow choir member) that I was going to "steal" some of the selections for my own funeral! (Although in fact, I long ago decided I want joyful music at my funeral. "Shine, Jesus, Shine" and "Hallelujah, Your Love is Amazing" are a couple I have mentioned to family in the past. Obviously, I am not planning to need a funeral service myself for many years to come, but...when I do, I surely want to go out with Joy!!!)
And the stories by his family, the humour, the poetry read by a couple friends, the Scripture passages, Valerie's reflections of the man and his faith...all so moving and uplifting. I came away feeling honoured to have shared in this warm, loving celebration of a wonderful sounding man.
Also had the feeling that I was meant to be there. Originally had a meeting at work that I couldn't get out of, but then it got postponed, so I was able to attend the funeral after all. And earlier that morning, while still home, I had picked up my bible for no particular reason, and randomly read a passage from the gospel of Matthew...which passage turned out to be the exact passage read by the man's daughter during the service. Goosebump moment.
But wait...there's more! When we were filing out of the choir loft, I noticed a slip of paper on the pew behind me and said, oh someone had Chinese food last night, let's see what the fortune is...
It read: "You may attend a party where strange customs prevail." You're thinking so what's the big deal about that, it's just a random saying in a fortune cookie? Well, let me tell you what the strange coincidence is...in the photo below shows the same fortune on two slips of paper.
The slip on the bottom is the one I found at the funeral Thursday. The slip on top is the only other time I have seen this particular fortune: July 27 1986, the evening Dave and I started going out together...some of us had gone for Chinese food before a "New Year's Eve in July" party and this was my fortune.
On hearing of these coincidences, Connie (another fellow choir member) said "oh wow, you were meant to be here today, something is going to happen in your life." Well if so, I hope that something is something good. I hereby declare my life off limits to bad somethings. Yeah ok, that's a tad unrealistic...I'll just pray for the strength to deal gracefully with whatever somethings come my way!
In the case of the funeral today, I had never met the lady who had died (I think just from natural causes, she was 99), and thought I didn't know any of the family. Until I was looking at them in the front pew and realized one of her granddaughters was someone I had gone to high school with. I didn't get a chance to speak with her though, because there was such a crowd afterward for the reception, and I knew there would be lots of people wanting a few moments of her time, so I just slipped away.
Before the service, we were putting on our choir gowns and trying to decide which neck cloths (whatever those things are called) to wear...the white ones with gold crosses, or the beige ones with butterflies. Some of the ladies thought that the white ones were looking too shabby...on the other hand, there seemed to be some discomfort with wearing butterflies for a funeral service, so we ended up wearing the beige ones inside out so there was no decoration showing. (I whispered to Phyllis that I thought butterflies would be perfect for a funeral, and that if she comes to sing at my funeral, would she please make sure the butterflies are worn. :) She said she would do her best to sway the others. Not that I'm planning to get run over by a bus anytime soon, but there is that impending something in my future, after all, so best to have these preferences known!! LOL)
Again, the music was uplifting, the stories and reflections painted a vivid picture of a woman full of life and spirit. The family had brought one of her gorgeous paintings and had it displayed in the sanctuary. As I was listening to the stories of her grandson, I had such a strong sense of my own wonderful grandmother's presence, and was filled with joy.
I don't know what is in Valerie's heart and mind at the end of these services, but her face was so beautiful and radiant as she was speaking the final "I commend your spirit...", etc words with her eyes closed. It seemed to me like an incredibly private and peaceful moment that she was having with the souls of the dead, as if she herself was personally gathering them up and tenderly handing them over into the arms of God. I can't imagine the energy it must take to perform so many funerals back to back, as these are just two of too many for her the past month or so. I am sending her mental hugs and prayers and hoping she has some time to herself to recharge soon.
I had a chance to speak briefly with Rev. Iain after today's service. Ian was our minister before Valerie, and still lives in the community and comes to sing at funerals, etc. I said hey Iain, long time no see (as a joke because had just seen him Thursday at the other funeral). He replied that it was nice to see me twice in one week, but too bad it had to be on this kind of occasion both times. I asked him, is it strange that I actually found both occasions rather uplifting? Because I had found it incredibly awesome to share in the amazing outpouring of love and faith...my heart was filled with a sense of hope and joy. He readily agreed, adding that there is just something enriching about funerals.
I was also deeply humbled by the stories told these two days, by hearing how these beautiful souls touched the lives of others. I think wow, I want to be the kind of person who touches people's hearts so deeply, enriches their lives, and leaves behind a wonderful presence of love and laughter, joy and hope and faith. I have a long way to go, mind you, but hey I am already a half decent soul and rather fun to be around (if I may say so myself ♥), so I think there's hope for me yet!