I sang at four funerals in my life: My maternal grandparents, my dad, and the mother of a best friend. Each funeral was different and important, and I gave my best.
The first was for Grandpa Pence at the funeral home in Maryville, Missouri. Mom picked out the hymn. The casket was in a narrow alcove about ten feet wide and twenty feet deep. The family was off to the right behind a curtain. I never really understood that. We couldn’t see who was there. I sang behind the
curtain. I don’t remember a lot about the funeral.
A pallbearer's adventure
The second funeral was for Grandma Pence. People said she died of some disease. They’re wrong. She died of a broken heart and loneliness and there is no cure for that. Grandma’s last months were spent at our house and my dad, mom, and I took care of her. It was not a pretty picture. We had the funeral at the same place in Maryville as my grandpa. The most memorable line at the funeral came from my Aunt Elizabeth, “I can just see Mom giving Dad the dickens.” We all laughed and knew that both of them were happy again. I sang and people complimented me on it. I also was one of the pallbearers.
Six of us were pallbearers. The funeral director asked who was going to drive the pallbearers’ car, and I volunteered. My eyes lit up at the tan Lincoln Town Car I was to drive. The police officer who was leading the procession told me he would turn off at the cemetery. I knew about where the cemetery was, but I wasn’t positive. I drove fifty to sixty feet behind the police motorcycle, and then it happened. Instead of turning off, he sped up and went past the cemetery. I was focused on him, not the turn.
There was an Earl May Garden Center just down the road. I turned in, but couldn’t find an opening in heavy traffic to go back. The longer I waited, the more I started to sweat. I finally told everyone in the car to hang on. I saw an opening and I put the accelerator to the floor. I threw some serious gravel and we were out and gone. Everyone was at the cemetery when we pulled up. I took the heat and explained and Mom was okay with it.
Tough, but not the toughest
My dad died of a heart attack caused by a bronchoscopy ordered by the physician to see if he had pneumonia. A bronchoscopy probably wasn’t the wisest of ideas, but, back then, you did what the doctor advised. Dad was in ICU for seven days in a coma. I went to visit on a trip home. The location had the feel of doom and gloom. I saw a once-vital man lying helpless in a hospital bed. I was sad and angry.
My mom made all the arrangements with a Lee's Summit, Missouri, funeral home. She asked me to sing and added if I couldn’t do my best to not do it. I said I would do it because my dad would want it. This funeral was different than the other two. I was standing by the piano, facing the audience, Dad’s open casket to my right. It was eerie for sure. I sang the Lord’s Prayer and, to use a common phrase, I nailed it. I also was one of the pallbearers. It was a great honor, but also a great concern. We had to carry the casket down a flight of stairs and place it into the hearse. All I could think of was “I will not drop my dad.” My brother and I had the front, my two cousins had the back, and two of my dad’s brothers had the middle. It went off without a hitch. I still cry about my dad and miss him terribly. That night I had a dream of my dad ascending to heaven. I knew then everything was okay. I thought I had done the toughest funeral I could. How wrong I was.
This one got to me.
One of my best friend’s mom died. She was like a mom to me and a grandma to my two girls who called her Grandma Judi. She was a very vital woman who was struck down in her prime by multiple sclerosis. She and her husband, Grandpa Dave, were campers. They traveled the United States in their fifth-wheeler. When the disease hit her, those days were no more. In her final days, she had to be fed. The last time we saw her was when we brought her dinner. The girls cried because they loved her so much. When she died, my friend asked me to sing.
My friend sang the Lord’s Prayer. He was so good it was beyond awesome. After a brief break, it was my turn. I’ve said to this day I can’t remember the hymn, but I know I sang four verses. When I was done, I went back to my pew in the church and cried. I didn’t cry at my dad’s funeral. Why, I don’t know, but this one hit me deeper. One of my church friends told me she had never heard me sing so well and knew why–it was for the person, not for me. Grandma Judi would have loved it.
Michael Humphrey is secretary of Springfield Writers' Guild in Missouri. He has written more than 200 skits that have been performed on three continents. His favorite genre? “Whatever strikes me at the time." He is married, with three children and four grandchildren, and is a native of Missouri. In his free time, he loves to karaoke.
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Photo by Wayne E. Groner