It was over. The last person to offer comfort was finally departing down the gravel driveway to head home. Mama had long ago pleaded exhaustion and was lying down in the second bedroom, and I was dismayed with size of the mess. Grumpily, I started picking up the Styrofoam cups that had found their way to every flat surface in Gram’s living room. I carried the first load to the sink and dumped out the half-drunk contents before throwing the empty cups into the trash. Then I went back for more.
As I straightened up the room, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the day. It had been a long one with phone calls beginning at 6 a.m., followed shortly after by the first visitor to Gram’s house. Mama had decided her mother’s house would work as the place for people to gather. It offered more space and better parking than Mama’s condo. The fellowship hall at the Holly Ridge UMC, Gram and Mama’s church was undergoing renovations so it was unavailable. Somehow my grandmother’s little 1200 square foot home on Bluebell Lane had ended up with enough room for everyone. But I suspected it was thanks to her large yard that made it possible.
Despite what they say, the dead can’t wait, at least for a better time to deal with the task of burying them. We discovered, while sitting at the funeral home to finalize preparations for the funeral that Gram’s pastor was out of the country.
“He’s on his honeymoon, Isn’t it just the sweetest thing? They eloped” said Mr. White, the funeral home rep.
“Honeymoon?” Mama asked, “Isn’t Pastor Miller about my mother’s age?”
“He’s 79. He and his bride are in Aruba and won’t be back till next week.” The rep, who’s comb-over dated back to the Nixon era, crossed his hands on the folder that contained the paperwork for the funeral. “Now you can certainly choose to wait till he returns, and if so we can discuss the holding fee..”
“Isn’t there another option?” I asked.
“Well, we do have a list of pastors who rotate on an on call basis for those times then a dearly departed’s regular minister is unable to provide the necessary service.”
I looked over at Mama. She looked utterly worn out. I doubt she had slept 8 hours since leaving the hospital three days ago. She closed her eyes a moment, then said, “Alright. You have our denominational preferences, and I know she would have preferred someone a lot like Pastor Miller.”
Mr. White looked at a sheet of paper on his desk. “Ah, Pastor Eckhart is on call this week. He will perform a wonderful service for your mother,” He opened the folder and pushed some papers over to Mama. “Now if you will sign here, we’ll get everything taken care of just as you asked.”
Mama and I met Pastor Eckhart about fifteen minutes before the funeral. He was at least as old as Pastor Miller and I couldn’t help noticing that most of the hair that had once graced his scalp was instead growing thickly out of his ears. The elderly pastor had been quite soft-spoken as he introduced himself with fifteen minutes to spare before the start of the service. I stood awkwardly by the casket as people I barely knew continued to pay their respects. Friends of my grandmother, relatives I hadn’t seen in many years, and some I didn’t remember hugged me tightly and commented on how much I’d grown while Mama and the pastor stood off to one side speaking. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I’d long since mastered the growing up part, and didn’t even need permission to stay out late any more. I thought it best to keep my sarcasm tightly reigned, even thought I had inherited that trait from the woman currently in the casket beside me.
“I had to strain to just hear the man speak.” Mama whispered to me as we finally sat down in the front row. The opening measures of It Is Well With My Soul, began to play. “I hope those who have them put fresh batteries in their hearing aids.”
So it was a bit of a shock to the friends and family, most of whom were Methodist and expecting Pastor Miller’s usual gentle words words of comfort to sit through Pastor Eckhart’s funeral service. Instead of a gentle homily, the people packed into the funeral home chapel found themselves subjected to the exuberant style of the fire brand preacher from the First Apostolic Holiness Lighthouse Church.
“At least no one is sleeping through this service.” I had thought as I could feel half the room jump behind me every time Pastor Eckhart banged his bible down onto the pulpit. Sometimes someone would let out a surprised squeak as well. Mama was mortified. She had wanted a quiet service with little fuss. Between the cavalcade of relatives who’d been calling non-stop since getting word Gram’s passing, some of whom had asked at this morning’s viewing for Mama or I to arrange for a place to “lay their heads”, a mix up with which coffin was actually hers and a very enthusiastic preacher, quiet was hardly what Gram’s send off to heaven could be described as. I watched as Mama sat there, hands clasped so tightly together they were white, as she fought back the tears that had been threatening all day.
“Just think Mama,” I whispered to her, leaning so I could be close to her ear. “This will be over soon. Besides, just imagine Gram’s conniption fit over this spectacle. I bet it is taking a whole host of angels having to hold her back so she don’t come right down here and haunt the lot of us. Why, what she’s probably planning for Mr. White is likely giving St. Peter fits.” The pastor stopped in mid-sentence and scowled right at us, as Mama fought to get her laughter under control. He then got over his outrage and continued on about the wages of sin, as my mother took my arm and linked it to hers. She only let go long enough to get in and out of the car for the graveside portion of the service.