“What’s a funeral, Dad?” my 3-year-old nephew asked as he snuggled in my living room with his father and his twin brother shortly after getting out of bed.
“Well, it’s…kind of like church,” my brother Scott began, trying to prep them for their task of sitting quietly.
“But then you bury someone in a hole in the ground,” his 7-year-old brother offered casually from his much vaster years of wisdom.
“Yes, we’re going to bury great-grandpa Kulp,” Scott agreed.
It’s funny sometimes how when a child asks a question, you suddenly don’t know how to answer.
And it’s crazy that this is the fifth funeral we’ve been affected by since we got engaged in August.
On the other hand, there was a funeral that we did not attend that we probably would have, had it not been for the expertise of Dr. Schrock, Dr. Hraska, and the other physicians who directed her care. My niece Lucia is safe and sound in her own home, and even went to visit her almost-twin cousin Vince the other day.
And I suppose it’s exceptional that I’ve just now lost my first grandparent, and I am 35 years old. My grandpa Kulp, my mom’s dad, was ill with a lung condition all summer, but seemed to be doing better and slipped away unexpectedly last Saturday night.
“It seems like a dream,” my grandma said, even though she was expecting this to happen eventually.
My little nephews can’t grasp what a funeral means, or what Grandpa’s funeral means, partly because they didn’t know him well, just like they don’t remember my mom. They didn’t get little red boxes of raisins from him in their childhood, or sit with him on his bulldozer. They didn’t go out to eat with him and they don’t remember him sitting in our farmhouse in Wisconsin reading the newspaper and drinking coffee.
But it’s also hard for them to understand how the lives of people become woven together, and that when we lose a person, we lose a piece–whether big or small– of the fabric of our own lives. They can’t visualize those threads that tie us together in relationship, because only with age do those threads become visible, appearing on the loom of our consciousness under the spotlight of years. Sometimes with age, people begin to matter more than they used to because the weaving among us was invisible before.
In this way, even though the death of an older person is perhaps less tragic, it still does its share of ripping through normality, and we are left with the difficulty of piecing together the ragged edges that once enclosed that person’s life.
I remember when my mom died, Grandma Kulp said she woke up every morning for a long time after her funeral and the first thing she thought of was seeing her in the casket. I wonder if she will experience the same thing again? And I think this is what she meant… that she was trying to arrange the pieces of her life experience to reflect the truth that she had seen her own daughter in a casket.
Yet despite the sadness, our ability to grieve reminds us that we are made in the image of God. It is evidence that we know their is something better and that we know what relationships are. It is proof that we, like God, can love and dream, and wonder and hurt when the fabric tears. And it reminds us that because of the blood of Christ, we all have the opportunity to enter a place where everything is made right.
If you wish, read my Grandpa’s story here: Grandpa Kulp