Things that make you ponder...
I had a rather unique experience with a burial today, which I thought I would share. On Sunday, the local funeral home director told me he had received the body of a 69 year old female who had died at a care facility in a nearby town. Apparently this woman used to live in a similar care facility in this town, until that facility closed and she was moved elsewhere. Word through the grapevine was that she was Catholic, but no one was really sure and no one really knew her. The funeral home director said his information was that the deceased had had six children but no one knows where they are or how to contact them. This poor woman may have even been a ward of the state and in need of some mental care, but that, like all the other information we had on her, was sketchy.
With no next of kin claiming any involvement, the funeral home director kindly agreed to care for the burial himself. He had an extra casket and a burial gown on hand. His wife ordered some flowers and we agreed to meet at the cemetery after my School Mass today for All Saints' Day.
At the cemetery (in addition to me) was the director, and one of his assistants. All three of us had to struggle to get the casket out of the hearse and move it over to the grave. I have never before had to be a pall bearer (one of three, mind you) and preside over the ceremony. Since there was no money for this burial, it was bare bones. There was no (and I don't even know the name for this contraption) committal machinery (the thing that lowers the casket), just two boards over the hole with two sets of rope to lower the casket. So, after placing the casket over the hole, I then vested for the graveside service. The director, the assistant and I offered prayers for this lady and then two cemetery workers showed up to lower the casket and fill the hole with dirt.
There was something very beautiful about this rather sober and bare moment. Even without all the typical and expected formalities of a "normal" funeral, this woman's human dignity and her dignity as a child of God was recalled today. Though apparently leaving the world with nothing and having no other familial relationships present, her dignity impacted at least the five of us involved with her burial. And though there is something beautiful about that, there was also something sad to ponder as we stood there looking at this most simple casket, resting on two pieces of lumber, waiting to be lowered into the earth. Based on the realities of these circumstances, it was as if we were dealing with an almost totally unknown person. There were no family members present and no one who seemed to have been a friend of hers in life. That is hard to imagine -- going through life almost totally unknown. The starkness of this burial scene seemed to invite for me pondering about life, death, and relationships. The scene of any funeral could probably elicit such thoughts, but this one seemed to do so even more than normal. Perhaps that was because none of the typical trappings were present to offer distraction.
Whatever the case, it seemed somehow appropriate to face this woman's seeming isolation, as we focus today on the bond between all the members of Christ's Body, especially the saints and that blessed communion in Heaven we hope to share!