I left my interim home at 8:30am, anticipating being in Temple, TX at 12:05pm. I arrived on time. I was the first one at the funeral. I stood in the foyer staring into the distance at an open casket with a body in it, that did not look like the last time, I had seen him. He was 15. He was 14 when his family left last year. Shot and killed immediately, he had been dead for 10 days.
Before, many others began arriving. I asked the aging pallbearer if I could view him. I only made it halfway into the sanctuary. I stood in the middle frozen, weeping, breathless. I left and walked outside, hoping to reclaim the air that death had stolen from me.
A fleet of cars pulls up. From the first proceeds a slew of family members, ending with his mother. Who looks the same except for her red hair. She looked at me and didn’t know who I was. I walked inside. It was in the foyer that she said my name. She left her family and gave me an embrace and cried. Instinctually and stupidly, I said, “It’s okay.” The words left my lips and slapped me in the face. This is not okay. Mothers should not bury their sons. A family member impatiently pulled her away telling her she needed to sit down. It was thirty minutes before the funeral began.
I walked in and seated myself in a position where I couldn’t see his face. He did not look like himself. In the time before the funeral, you could hear the irreverent cackling of the family. Mom sat alone and detached. She left the room. Moments later, I felt arms around my chest and a head upon my shoulder. It was mom. I immediately wept. I didn’t want to say any of the wrong words this time. I love you. I am so sorry. For twenty slightly interrupted minutes, she shared her sorrow with me. She shared her guilt and her pain. She shared her emptiness. Though I could not fully take them, I was graciously invited to an experience.
She returned to her family. I moved seats. I wanted to be closer to him. Throughout the funeral, the refrain was repeated in my mind, “Where would Jesus be in this scene?” The ceremony felt quick. The church was filled primarily with weeping adolescents processing death and grief. The two officiants used his death as to preach their messages of gun control and serve as a Beyond Scared Straight episode. It drove me insane. The forty or so youth in that service needed comfort. Many of them attended without their parents. The church should have comforted them.
Some of the family members cackled through the hymnals. I could see mom get irritated. The family was full of laughter, but she needed them to mourn with her. We caught eyes in the middle of the service. Seeing her with her family, her life made more sense. I could understand, why she is the way she is.
The service was over. As she arose, she let out the first wail of finality. It won’t be the only one. With every birthday, every Christmas, every Thanksgiving, the year he should have graduated she will wail like this. It hurt to hear it.
As we exited the sanctuary, we passed by his open casket. I finally looked in. Death has stolen his face. His bright honey complexion was greyed. His bouncing curls cut short. His eyes forever fastened closed. His mouth sealed to provide no opportunity for breath or speech. His rosary filled hands folded on his lap, looking out of place for him. He was resting, but it didn’t look peaceful.
I only stayed at the reception long enough to speak to the mother one last time. Then, I left.
The drive back from Temple to Houston was daunting. I played Miles Davis’s Kinda Blue and thought about everything else, but his death.
Death is a thief. I know that Life is a giver. We all wrestle with both. Death felt victorious on November 8th. Life has won the war. To answer the question, “Where would Jesus be in this scene?” I think He would just be there, wrought with sorrow and grief. Consoling the mother. Correcting the family. Comforting the adolescents. Speaking life into death. I am not Jesus, but I pray I was where he would be in this scene.I pray, that I will be that continually.