Craig Hedrick and I were the same age. We loaded airplanes together at LAX. He died on New Year’s Eve, 1982 on La Cienega Blvd. He was leaving work—in his silver Triumph TR-6. A guy from Panama struck his car—although I guess his country of origin is inconsequential. The guy walked away from the accident. Craig had a closed casket funeral. Since 1982, I have never gone out on New Year’s Eve. Like Christmas, it’s another holiday that lives among the glass shards of broken memories. Last year, my friend Chris— we were the same age—told me about a pain he had in his back. As the promoter of holistic health, I demanded he see a Chiropractor. The pain in his back was pancreatic cancer so it wasn’t much the Chiropractor could do. Chris and I talked expectantly about turning 50. He’d just returned from the Czech Republic and was, shall we say, extolling the virtues of a joint trip in ’08. We discussed all the cool things we’d do after 50. Chris, however, is in Denton, Texas— in a very beautiful cemetery. I don’t think dying was part of his plan.
But dying is never really a part of the plan is it? Last week I attended Mr. Williams’ funeral. I was struck that the men cried—not a frayed, clandestine attempt to wipe away tears from the corner of an eye, but huge, wailing sadness. The kind of sadness that emanates from a great loss. Mr. Williams was loved— his male friends, to a person, acknowledging him as being the ‘best’ friend they could ever have.
Eight funerals in ’08…but just how many caskets have I watched being lower into the damp, waiting earth. The number I’ve come up with is 35. My father, step-father, brother, all four grandparents, my great-grandmother, seven uncles, one cousin who drowned in Castaic Lake, my baby sister and more friends, co-workers and former students that I care to remember. A couple of days ago, my Uncle Harry counseled me to stop going to funerals—he said he's noticed a change in me after each service.
At each funeral—whether Pentecostal, Roman Catholic or s simple service because the guy never went to church—someone stands and talks about how we must ‘live life each day,’ or ‘stop and smell the roses,’ or ‘remind your significant other how much you love them,’ or another trite, abstract empty phrase.
No one learns from funerals. By the next sunrise, we’ve fallen into life’s numbing grind that quietly misdirects us to ‘major in the minors.’ We’re returned to taking kids to piano lessons, toiling for thankless organizations and forgetting that at the end of life, no one says, “I should’ve worked more weekends.’ No, we fall back into the lives routine because it’s too difficult to break free. And, it requires acts of courage, which from my observations, is woefully lacking in our culture. We prefer the comfortable to the unknown.
I hope that I gave my children the gift of courageousness—the willingness to make a full frontal assault on fear.
The lessons to be learned from funerals are lost on us. Funerals should create more courage and less fear. Out of the grief should come a renewed strength to live more meaningful lives, knowing that sand is ‘racing through the hourglass’ and we are rapidly approaching the end of our days.
That, alone, should offer expectancy and hope.
That's one of the coolest things about Christianity: It’s focused on eternity…it promises something more…. an hourglass where the supply of sand is ever replenished…it never runs out. The people who framed Christianity postulated that physical death is the beginning point of the next journey.’ A ship, as it were, leaving the harbor.
At every funeral there should be a big hourglass perched on top of the casket for everyone to see—a visual reminder that the journey is passing by —sadly, most of us don’t recognize it because we exist in a fog. We've gotta drop those kids at soccer practice and get to work on time. The sand keeps running, the fog becomes more dense and the damp earth awaits.