A Child’s Funeral

My good friend’s young (12 year old) son passed away last month.

When I heard about his death, I felt a pain in myself.  Not just for the little boy that I had known since his birth, but for my friends who had just lost their son.  It hurt thinking about what my friends were going thru.  I knew I could not truly understand the pain they were feeling.  I offered to help them with anything they needed, but I soon realized, the one thing they needed was something I could not help them with.  The pain of losing a child was something no one could make go away.

I went to the family visitation and the funeral. This was an experience that I wish I had not added to my experience bucket, but what I learned from this experience needs to be shared.

The Family visitation was held Thursday evening at one of the local Funeral Homes. It was a quiet event where I got to pass along my words of condolence to the family and my happiness for having known their son.

The Father, Mother and their young daughter (youngest child) were there with both sets of grandparents and various Aunts and Uncles.

The family lined up next to the casket where their son laid peacefully.

I’ve been to lots of wakes, it’s a part of the journey of life that needs to be accepted, since you can’t deny death from happening.  Normally, I don’t get outwardly emotional at funerals; however, seeing this child in a casket hit me pretty hard.  No one is supposed to end their life journey at such a young age.

This was a blunt image telling me that he would never experience the journey of life as most do.  A lot went thru my head regarding what he would miss out on.  Instead of me listing them from my point of view, spend a moment to yourself and I’m sure you can come up with a list of life experiences that you are so happy to have.  He will never experience any of them.

Being a tough old man, I tried hard to squelch the outward emotion this caused me and it seemed to work.  One day I’m going to ask myself why I do this, but for now, I’ll stick to acting tough, outwardly at least.

On Friday afternoon we arrived at the church for the funeral.

It was a small church, but it’s important to know that the size of the church has nothing to do with the presences of God’s Love and the compassion that the church family provides.  This church clearly provided God’s Love and compassion to this family.

The service was a simple yet truly compassionate.

As most of us sat in the pews, the parents and the younger sister walked hand in hand into the church and up to the open casket.  They moved closer together, their daughter clinging to them both, and stood there looking into the casket at their son.  They clung tighter to each other as they sobbed tears of sorrow and love for their little boy.  I could feel the love they had for their son as I watched them standing there.  It was very clear that laying in this casket was one of the most important parts of their lives, if not the single most important piece.

In a few minutes they moved away from the casket and sat down next to other family.  The church attendees closed the casket.  Closing the casket seemed to take forever as I though of the young boy laying there, never to become anything more than a young boy.

I have heard Amazing Grace sung 100’s of times. Each time I hear this song I get at least a small lump in my throat.  Sitting in the church after viewing the emotion of these parents and then the closing of that casket set the stage for this song to have a much different effect on me.  Listen to the words and music of this song after visualizing a child in his casket.  It’s a different experience than hearing the song on the radio in your car.  I’m really not that tough of an old man, and I need to stop pretending.

As I fought back tears, the minister spoke next.  I listened to his words and could tell he had prepared them well.  He read specific words of scripture and how they related to both this child’s life and death.  The minister spoke of meeting the young boy numerous times and about one particular time when the mother wrapped her arms around her son for support.  He recalled sensing the mother was saying, “I’m here son and I will never go away.”

After the minister spoke, the young boy’s Uncle gave a well planned and heart felt Eulogy.  The story and message he gave us was personal and moving.  It was very clear that this Uncle had just lost a good friend and loved one. He struggled emotionally to give the eulogy, but he did a great job.

The Uncle reminded us that God does not make mistakes and that his nephew was perfect.  He told us that God gave this perfect child to the perfect set of parents for him. Knowing this boy and his parents, I agreed fully.

The Uncle told stories of the boy’s life and how he touched so many different lives.  Even during his short 12 year life journey, many people got to know him.  Those who did were touched by his smile, the gleam in his eyes and the love that surrounded him from his parents, sister, and family and friends.

The tearful Uncle reminded the family through good examples and scripture readings that this boy would be with them always in the many deep memories that they have of him.  He went on to tell the family, and the rest of us, that we would be able to see him grow up, in our minds.  As we continue our own journey thru life, all we need to do is to stop for a moment and pull the memory of this child back into our current life as a young man, college student, friend, husband or parent, depending on what we are doing or where we are at that time in our own life. Visualizing him living his own life vicariously thru our own helps to keep his memory living within us.  I could see this happening for me and the Uncle as he talked.

The Uncle ended his eulogy by having a song played.  He told us that he considered having the song played before his talk, but he knew he would not be able to talk after the song.

The Uncle had chosen a song that unless you knew better, was a song about this young  man and his father. The song was from Mark Schultz and titled, “He’s my Son”.  It is the story of a father praying to God to help his Son.

Again, I’m not as tough as I want to think.  This song was so real and relevant to this child, his life and his parents that I could not hide my emotion any longer.  The song was a perfect ending to the eulogy.

The minister ended the service with a few more comforting words of his own and from scripture, but being honest with myself, I barely heard them over the thoughts and visions in my mind from the Uncle’s eulogy and the song.

The next steps for this funeral were both unusual and honoring.

We left the church in the funeral procession to the grave site.  I have been in a few processions and none were as unique as this one.  We pulled out of the church and for nearly the next 10 miles of the drive, every car we passed pulled off the side of the road and stopped.  They sat still and clear of our path as if they also were giving tribute to this child as he neared the end of his journey thru life.  I know we were in a small country town and normally I would not expect this in a larger city, but the visual of all of these cars waiting as we passed warmed my heart and reminded me that people do care about others.

The journey to the grave site was long and I worried that eventually I would get lost in route; however, each time I looked up in the distance I could see the car carrying the child and the other cars in the procession.  It was clear to me that God was not going to let me get lost.  We pulled into the cemetery as if on cue, right behind every other car that left before us.

The grave site, final resting place for this child, was another gift from God.

The grave site was under the canopy of a giant Oak tree.  This was the perfect example of a majestic and stately tree.  I exaggerate not when I say it was the biggest Oak tree I have seen in a long time.  A tree with a 5-6 ft trunk and bright green leaves on branches that appeared to spread out more than 15′ all the way around the tree.  The tree was full of acorns and during our stay there, it gently less loose of them, pinging on the roofs of the cars and on the pavement.  This was the kind of tree that many would say, “When I die, please let this be my final resting place.”

Besides being under the great Oak tree, this grave site sat on a beautiful grassy hill that slopped down to a small creek winding its way thru the cemetery.  Listening carefully you could here the babbling waters flowing thru this creek, just enough sound to soothe you if you closed your eyes.

Set at the bottom of the hill was a small wooden bridge straddling the banks of the creek.  A great scene, something you would expect to see in a good piece of art.

The grave site had been prepared for the service with a large green tent and chairs for the family.

After the pallbearers brought the casket from the hearse to the gravesite, the parents and young sister walked up to the casket for their final good byes.  Again, they stood as one, clinging to each other for emotional and physical support.  All of the friends and family stood quietly around the tent insuring the parents could have this time to themselves.

The next scene was as if on cue.  As the parents walked away from the casket, a large plane flew across the bright blue sky in a tribute flyby.  Seconds later a large flock of geese flew over us, again in honor of the young boy.

The final resting place for this young boy was not only beautiful to see, but he would have frequent fly overs by giant airplanes and flocks of birds.  Truly a gift from God for him and his parents who could enjoy the view themselves when they visit.

I tried to ignore the outward emotions I felt, however, I cannot deny that this entire scene was truly an emotional thing to witness.

The minister provided us with another relevant reading of scripture and reminded us that God was in charge and would continue to care for this child.

I shared this story with you because it was one of the most emotional things I have experience in a long time.

No parent wants to attend the funeral of their child.  This is a nightmare that many of us just can’t imagine.  I watched as good friends of mine lived this nightmare and I prayed that God would help them deal with their pain.  I saw how God did this thru the minister, the Uncle’s eulogy, the beautiful music and grand view of the gravesite as well as the love from the many friends and family who joined them as they said good bye to their son.  I could feel God’s Love as he touched the family letting them know that he had their son with him now and that he was at peace and safe from now thru eternity.

I also learned thru this experience that we should not squelch our emotions. Shared emotions are another way to communicate and people need to communicate as often and in as many ways as possible.  This is how friends and families build and maintain strong relationships.  This is living, not just being.

I wrote this blog in memory of Joshua Bowman, who left us on Sept 28, 2010.