I attended two funerals in the same week that were as big of a contrast as I have ever seen in my life. Both people died the same day, Sunday, but that was where the similarities ended.
The first, a woman, had started out her life as a movie star. She had been a beautiful child, growing up in sunny Southern California. As she grew older, her life was spent gracing the stage in music, theater, and film. Her whole life revolved around the prestige she desired. Though she married and had four children, you would hardly know it. If you walked in to her house you would have seen all of the memorabilia that marked her successes in life, but nowhere could you find a picture of her family.
But as the years went on, as happens to us all, beauty and the opportunities of limelight fade, though she hung doggedly on to them. In fact, in her final years, she as much as disowned family, instead wanting only friends to visit. She specifically asked family not to visit her because they “… weren’t worth the time and hassle”. She spent the last eight years of her life avoiding her family, never even meeting some of her youngest grandchildren.
When we went to her funeral, it was a sad affair. We had hoped for some music, of which she had written much. We had hoped to at least hear a reading of her life history, which was eventful. But none of that occurred.
Instead, two of her daughters, who had managed her life the last few years to gain control of her money, hurriedly threw together a “funeral” on Tuesday, saying they needed “… to get this over with and get on with life.” There might have been 20 people there if the two morticians were counted. There really was no funeral. Instead, there was a prayer at the funeral home and then she was taken to the cemetery where another was offered. Nothing was said of her life or work. Nothing was mentioned of family.
Saturday I went to a funeral that was far different. The man had been born a farm boy. He grew up working long, hard hours. He married a bright, vivacious young lady, and they struggled to make ends meet as they raised seven sons and three daughters. When farming the small farm was not making ends meet, he went to college to become a school teacher, struggling to take care of his young family as he did.
After graduation, he taught fifth grade and many young people learned to count him as their friend and could point to his influence in their life. I not only had that blessing, but consider one of his sons as a dear friend. His life was never spent in positions of fame and limelight, but instead had been spent raising his family, building swings, toys, and other things for his children, serving in church and scouting, and helping people in the community. Perhaps his name never appeared in People Magazine or some other publication of the rich and famous, but what his sphere of influence lacked in breadth, it made up for in the depth of richness in the lives he touched. He may not have been known by millions, but he was loved deeply by thousands.
When I arrived for the viewing, the line went from one end of the church to the other, about 50 yards. As I waited my turn to greet the family, I visited with people who knew him, people he had helped, students he had taught, and family he had loved. Each had an individual story of love and gratitude to share.
When the funeral started, just his children, step children from his marriage after his first wife passed away, and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren numbered in the hundreds, filling much of the church. The rest of the church was packed with his friends. Though those speaking at the services shared the love and goodness of his life, its evidence was even more strongly mirrored in the exemplary lives of his family.
Two contrasting funerals, two contrasting lives. When it’s my time to go, I know which one I’d rather emulate.