The first thing I noticed was the silence. There was no prelude music, no banal conversations in unmodulated tones, no one-sided cell phone silliness; just a few low whispers, the cadence of condolences, and the quiet old ladies whispering hush. Hugs and handshakes were given and received. In that extended silence there was a fundamental respect.
Polished wood warmed the room: curved pews with carved detail, wooden rails and paneling, a traditional wooden hymn board with white numbers. The April sun bled through the pointed arch stained glass windows, coloring the room. Flowers curtained the front, embraced the casket.
As the service began, we sang her favorite hymns: How Great Thou Art, In the Garden, and Amazing Grace.
With shouts of acclamation
And take me home,
What joy shall fill my heart!
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
And Grace will lead me home.
We had gathered to pay our respects to Averil, a simple woman who made a difference. Like her name, she came from a different time, from a culture of community and generosity, industry and responsibility. Her mother was born in the post office; she was born in the telephone office. Through Averil we saw an example of the habits and priorities of a life lived in service to others. She “never walked across a floor without seeing something to pick up.” She was born loving her parents. She was an enabler of scholars.
Her devotion to family extended in all directions. The numbers of her life are staggering. She was married 68 years; she and her husband kept her father-in-law 28 years. Her children and grandchildren were lavish in their praise. They were given a legacy of legendary country breakfasts, of hand-made quilts, of tailored clothing, of insistence on hard work, of garden produce, of hunting and fishing, and of countless plates of home cooked food. There was no question which scripture passage would be read. Proverbs 31 was precisely right.
The marriage of Bob and Averil is one of those rare and precious relationships. Their love for one another was evident in their smiles, their speech, and especially as they held on to one another when they walked.
The service closed with the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. In United Methodist tradition, we used the word trespasses. All those glorious esses in “as we forgive those who trespass against us” rebounded off each other in the air.
There is something very satisfying about a good funeral. At a good funeral you are inspired to imitate the deceased. Good grief is the final gift Averil gave her family.