I don’t go to many funerals for one reason: the deceased is not there. When I go, it is one of two things: either to comfort a loved one or to honor the person in the way our society chooses to express honor, meaning a funeral or memorial service.
I just returned from Alabama where I went to the funeral of a favorite uncle. He lived to be 96 years old but the last 10 years of his life he was non-functional due to Alzheimer’s or some other form of mental deterioration.
I am glad I went. His two sons were there and I had not seen them in many years. I also met many people who loved him and enjoyed their stories of the impact he had on their lives.
My favorite memory of him was a letter I got from his when I ran for re-election as county executive. He was notoriously attentive to his money and he sent me a check for $100 and a letter telling me he had followed my career and appreciated the honor I had brought to the Roberts name. Honor was a big thing to him and I guess that’s why he lived such an honorable life.
Another reason I am glad I went is that there were so few people there. When you live your last ten years in another state in a mental fog, you lose all meaningful contact with your circle of friends. He had spent most of his time in Florida in the last years of active life. His son in Jacksonville really took care of him when he became dysfunctional.
I remember what a quiet Christian man he was. I like quiet Christians. I think any place Jesus lives, including our hearts, will be quiet and peaceful. In the records of His life, I see no place where He made a lot of noise. He even made His final stand in Jerusalem by quietly riding in on a donkey. When Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” as He stood there before the man who offered Him a last chance for freedom, He was quiet.
Uncle Hill seemed to know that the main influence we can have with our life is to quietly and conscientiously go about the business of living the way Jesus taught. As Jesus said, “By this shall people know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” Uncle Hill was a man of love.
He was a tall man but I remember how he would stoop to listen to my questions and words when I was a little boy. It reminds me of the Boys Clubs of America saying, “No man is so tall as when he stoops to help a child.”
A female Methodist minister came to the service to share her memory of him. She was beginning her first pastorate in his rural Methodist church – one where women preachers might not expect to be warmly welcomed. He came in just before the service started with a huge bouquet of flowers he had grown in his garden, and told her he just wanted her to know how proud he was she would be his new pastor.
She said, “I don’t believe I have ever seen a more peaceful face” and if I was asked to say what I will most clearly remember about him I would say, “His peaceful face.” When he smiled, it warmed your heart all the way through.
A pallbearer didn’t show up and at the last minute I volunteered to take his place. It was such an honor to carry his body those final steps to his resting place. The memory of the life he lived will carry me along until I reach my final resting place.
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