Yesterday, my wife and I, accompanied by my two sisters, Joyce and Judy, drove north to Graham United Methodist Church near Rice, Minnesota, to the funeral of Aunt Bernice Meehl, Dad's sister, who passed away after living 90 years and several months.
She was fun to visit until the end, telling stories and answering questions about her life. For me she was the closest living link to my father, who passed away in 2001. Questions I wished I'd asked Dad, I asked Bernice, and she gave thoughtful answers. But it's not as if I always led the discussion. To our delight she would go on about all sorts of adventures in her young life, interspersing stories about the childhoods of her sons, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren.
We visited her last on Monday, November 12, just eight days before she died, and we brought an album of photographs that was thick enough to make even the most avid photo nuts roll their eyes in dread, but we went through the whole thing with Bernice, page by page, as she named people and put dates to the events where the pictures were taken. Nancy and I shut up and took notes.
Yesterday's service for Bernice was a celebration of her life as well as a worship service for her faith.
Reading of Scripture, messages from the Pastor, prayers, and hymns were followed by a period where audience members were invited to share their memories of Bernice. This started out out with a comprehensive, heartfelt talk by Bernice's grand daughter, Carmen. Then each of Bernice's sons, Bill and Harvey, commented from their seats. Soon many others spoke up, and bit by bit we learned more and more about the shared love audience members had for Bernice.
As her God Son, I commented that she never forgot my birthday. She always sent a card and a small gift that truly reflected the fact that she was thinking of me on my birthday.
After the service, I had the special honor of carrying her ashes to the hearse and holding the urn on my lap as I rode to the grave site. I've been honored to be a pallbearer many times in the past, and consequently, I've felt the weight of a friend or relative as I helped lift the casket and carry a loved one to his or her final resting place. I've always found it to be a moving experience and one I highly recommend to everyone.
However, I found the experience of lifting the urn by myself, feeling the slight weight of the urn and Bernice's ashes on my lap as I rode to the cemetery, and finally setting the container with the ashes on the pedestal by the grave, to be a profoundly unique and personal experience, one I will always remember.
Do not pass up the chance to bear the pall. Although it may be a service to the deceased, the benefit is greatest to the bearer.
Several years ago I wrote a rather long poem entitled "Bear the Pall." Like most modern poetry, it had
no regular meter or rhyme, but I ended it with a couplet, which are the only lines I'll quote here:
Let us always have the living provide the dead
With flesh-powered parade to their final stead.
After the cemetery service, we all met back at the church for a hearty Minnesota lunch served by the Graham United Methodist Women. More stories were swapped and memories were shared before the event ended with everyone dispersing to go on with their lives, feeling a little closer to knowing Bernice.