A Fitting Farewell

Grandson pallbearers.

The honor guard

In a culture where casual is cool, the formal ceremony of military honors is arresting. It is sobering. It is potent.

Every note of Taps, every fold of the flag, every word in the presentation of the flag is crystal clear, separate and distinct, heard and viewed while we all seem to collectively hold our breaths.

I’ve written before about clean grief.

Sorrow can be such a complicated thing. It easily gets muddied with regrets, splattered with the wrong actions of the deceased, splotched with omissions, and speckled with questions.

One of the gifts we can give to those we leave behind is the gift of clean grief. The difference between clean and mucked-up grief is the difference between the cut of a surgeon’s sterilized knife and the puncture of a rusty nail. Both are incredibly painful, both require a time of healing, and both leave scars; but the puncture requires much cleansing in order to avoid infection and heal.

It is remarkable how satisfying a good funeral is. Harold’s four sons spoke of their father, noting who he was, what he did, what he loved, how he loved.  They were proud of their dad, privileged to praise his life. When it came down to one phrase, my Uncle Harold’s life was characterized by faithfulness outside the spotlight.

The best funerals are the ones which leave you inspired to imitate the life of the deceased.  We will never know the full extent of my uncle’s generosity, but I asked God to give me Harold’s eyes to see needs and his heart to respond to them.  Although he loved golf and achieved one of his lifetime goals of a hole-in-one during his retirement, his sunset years were focused on serving others until his final days. He wrote letters, corrected correspondence courses, led Bible studies, connected with people. I want to be as other-oriented as my uncle was. 

“Whenever I spend time with extended family, I learn more about myself,” my young cousin Ashlee remarked.  I learned and laughed about my Harper traits: stubbornness, odd frugality, obsessive book acquisitions (I had to force myself to walk away from the boxes of books in the garage) and fondness of ice cream. 

I came to Philadelphia to honor my uncle.  The friendship of my cousins is the only reason I have to return. It is, however, reason enough.   

~       ~     ~

My Uncle Harold was three things to me.

First, he was a bridge.  There was a time when my father and I had a little estrangement thing going.  Communication between us stalled, sputtered and stopped.  Uncle Harold loved both of us and used every opportunity to bridge the gap between us.  He did nothing heroic, but in his quiet way he worked for peace. [A cancer diagnosis was all my father and I needed to reconcile, which we did, thankfully, before he died.]

He was a beacon. Uncle Harold’s faith informed his opinions and decisions. His interest in my spiritual well-being was constant. I loved him for that.

And Uncle Harold was a bonus. The uncle/aunt-nephew/niece relationship is much less complicated than the parent-child relationship.  There are not the same expectations or obligations.  Sometimes it is as simple as “I know he loves me, and I know I love him.”  That’s how it was with my uncle. He was not obliged to come see me.  But he did.  Because he always picked up the tab of a shared meal, it was not until ten or fifteen years ago that I realized that Harold was not rich.  His life enriched mine, and I will always be thankful. 


6 thoughts on “A Fitting Farewell

  1. Oh, my goodness!! I cannot believe how much he looked like your dad!! Who was older? This is a lovely tribute to your uncle and I always love your word pictures, Carol. I am glad that you are left with such lovely, positive memories of him, his life, and how he touched yours.p.s. hole-in-one 😉

  2. @LimboLady – Yes, they looked very fraternal! At my dad’s funeral, I so multiple episodes of heads swiveling when he walked by.  Thank you, my dear editor friend.  Can I blame it on typing on my laptop??  Please?!!

  3. I especially enjoyed reading this so soon after returning from a family funeral myself. My father-in-law’s funeral was also inspiring and full of meaningful family interaction.

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