R.F.'s funeral was yesterday morning. The wife and I went to the visitation on Friday night, where I met more of his family and saw a few other staf members. It was strange to see him laying in the casket in a tux instead of a hospital bed with a gown. Stranger still to see how fake he looked with all that makeup on. But that few moments at the casket gave me a chance to say goodbye and I could not help but reflect on how much I've grown and experienced over the course of the last year. My wife's aunt died last summer and we attended both the visitation and the funeral. The visitation, quite honestly, freaked me out a little bit. I've only been to a few funerals and as far as I can remember, this was the first one with the actual body on display. And people were touching her, which made me even more uncomfortable. The wife grew up in a small town in Illinois in a larger church with the whole span of ages present. She'd been to quite a few visitations like this, so for her it was old hat.
But over the course of the last year, I've had the unique privilege of taking care of the recently deceased on a number of different occasions. And I do take it as a privilege - the chance to show a few last acts of love and respect for someone whom I had known and cared for, and who was deeply and passionately loved by the God who died to snuff out death entirely. I've cleaned them one last time, removed the IV lines, EKG leads and other medical implements that allow us to provide heroic care but also, in their own subtle ways, dehumanize the patient, make them into a squiggly line on a computer screen or a drip rate, rather than a person. So I take it as a solemn honor to rehumanize them, so to speak, to return them more closely to how they were when they came into the world. And standing there, sometimes alone with the body, I have found myself almost irresistibily drawn to pray for that person, to pray for their soul and for God's mercy on them. From the Orthodox and Catholic perspectives, I know there is nothing wrong with this. Prayers for the dead are salutary and beneficial for those whom we pray. I also know there is pratically no biblical warrant for it, which is why the Protestant perspectives deem such prayers as at best ineffectual (the person having already been judged based on their own faith or lack thereof), and at worst, sinful to some degree. I don't know who is right or what to make of it all except that it just seems right. It seems like the loving thing to do, to beseech God for their entry into His presence with joy, for His mercy on their sins, for them to hear their name called from the Book of Life.
So I said goodbye to R.F. on Friday night, but the wife and I were invited to a dinner after the funeral to celebrate his life. I felt honored to be invited, but as Saturday noon rolled around, I also felt quite uncomfortable about it. We decided to go and I'm glad we did. His family, those who weren't able to visit him much while he was in the hospital, needed to hear about his final week, the things he said, the feelings he expressed. They just needed to hear it and frankly, I needed to tell it to someone who knew him. It was good. It was bittersweet, shot through with rays of joy and eternal expectations despite the present pain.