Last Saturday I attended a funeral where I felt something I’d never felt before.
The casket was open as friends sat down and ushers escorted family to a private room. Up ahead Mr. Cooley’s full white hair and kind forehead could be seen above a line of white satin. I’d sat with him days before, holding his hand as his family worked to bring home his wife of 56 years so she could say goodbye. It was one of those “flukes” in life where the truth is more than a writer could make up. But that is another story—one of faith, strength, love, and courage.
It was a privilege to hold Mr. Cooley’s hand for those hours. I’d known him for the twenty-plus years I’ve been friends with his daughter-in-law, Holly.
He was a light.
As Holly said—he squeezed every drop out of life. I could mention his love of Jesus, the way he loved and cared for his family, everything he accomplished, his acts of service, the horses he loved—all an integral part of him. But what impacted me most is how he made me feel from the first time I met him—welcome in his presence.
When Light or the reflection of Light, when Goodness or the reflection of Goodness, when Love or the reflection of Love welcomes you into its radius, and you step in, it changes you.
It has me. It has softened my edges, and continues to make me a meeker, gentler person—not to be mistaken for a weaker one. No, those attributes give us strength.
How does light and goodness and love have that kind of power?—one of the questions I thought about as I held Mr. Cooley’s hand. I concluded it was because of what those elements draw from us. Light begets light; goodness begets goodness; love begets love. All the other awful flaws embedded within our cells still exist, but they aren’t the ones being illuminated—or fed.
And as we grow in light and goodness and love, we have a responsibility (the great commission) to provide that kind of radius for others. Some of us are afraid to step into the darkness, but the beautiful thing is that where we step with light, it becomes light.
As I waited for the funeral service to begin, I held another hand—my husband’s. Someone else who had invited me into light and goodness and love.
In front of us was row upon row of empty seats that would soon be filled with Mr. Cooley’s abundant family, and I thought (with humor) that when it was my turn to go how we would only need the first six seats of the front row. This is what was going through my mind when two official, nametag-wearing individuals swept up the center aisle. They stopped at the head of the casket. I saw them do something I had never seen before. They folded the satin (that draped outside the casket) to the inside, and they closed the casket.
They closed the casket.
Wasn’t that supposed to be done in private? Or with family?
And just like *that* Mr. Cooley was gone.
I know in reality he was “gone” days before, but his physical presence had been a comfort. And now it was gone from view. My eyes welled on his behalf—entombed in lonely darkness. It didn’t matter that I knew where he really was, that this life is not all there is. In those moments after the casket was closed, the finality of our time on earth struck an unmeasured blow.
In the days that have followed, I’ve seen that my grief also has a selfish element—there is one less light in this world to shine upon me. Now it only shines through me.
That will have to be enough.
Someday, I will be gone from view. My journey here will come to an end. I didn’t used to believe this—just like I never believed I’d ever turn fifty, but then look what happened.
No, there’s finality to this life.
For most of the time I had sat at Mr. Cooley’s side holding his hand, he had slept. But every half hour or so, he’d wake up, and each time his eyes lit up and he’d smile. It seemed he was happy yet a little surprised to see me—I wasn’t a family member or one of his close personal friends. I smiled at him in return, kissed his forehead, and told him how he had blessed me over the years. In other words, there was no reason to be surprised.
He was reaping what he had sown.
I was shining on him some of what he had shone on me.
And this comforts and motivates me in the face of what is final. What we extend with our words and deeds will live on through others after we are gone. (note to self: make them good.) And more comforting still to this mortal being who has some fear of a closing casket, is that in our turn as the night descends, we will feel the warmth of all we have given in gratitude and love for all we were given.
And like an Olympic baton, I will be passed seamlessly from this life to the next.
Where the source of every good thing dwells.
Where nothing is final.
All in Goodwill,