I didn’t know her. She attended our Friday-night dinner club, a ministry to seniors our congregation put on twice a month. I might have met her, but I can’t remember. She died leaving no close family behind.
Her lawyer was someone I had gotten to know. I referred him to elderly people who needed estate work done. He often did the work pro bono. I got to know him as a gentleman who cared about what he was doing and whom he was doing it for.
The lawyer called Tom, one of the directors at the funeral home. They knew each other from past business together. The church, the lawyer’s office, and the funeral home were all located within a block of each other. I had done many funerals with this particular home and was well acquainted with the staff. Tom called me: “John, could you do an interment service for the lady?” Sure, I could do that. I then learned some of the woman’s history—husband deceased, no close family.
“Well, when the three of us can find a mutual date and time, we’ll bury her,” said Tom.
In the meantime, I had received a call to serve as pastor to the Ann Arbor Christian Reformed church. I accepted. The leaving date was finalized. I called the funeral home and the lawyer to set an interment date for the lady. We agreed on a date and time. At the last minute the lawyer had to excuse himself from attending. So the interment was left to the undertaker, Larry, and myself.
I arrived at the funeral home. The hearse was parked at the door. Tom and I were having coffee and catching up with each other when Larry came and asked for help loading the casket. Just as we were about to do so, the sun burst through the clouds and shone on the casket. The sunshine illuminated the dust that had collected. Larry excused himself, went inside, and returned with some dusting spray and a cloth. He polished the casket. It gleamed.
I’ve often reflected on Larry’s care for the deceased woman. Polishing her casket was one of his ways of showing respect and providing dignity. It set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
I drove with Larry to the long-established cemetery in downtown Toronto. We found the plot. The gravediggers helped us unload the casket and place it above the grave. Then they disappeared into the trees.
Larry and I were alone. It was slightly windy. The sun came and went as the clouds traveled overhead. Being past midafternoon, the shadows were beginning to lengthen.
Larry stood on one side, I on the other.
We held a service—a full service—minus the hymns. We ended with a moment of silence.
Larry broke the silence. “Thank you, John.”
“Thank you, Larry,” I replied.
We walked slowly to the hearse.
Larry stopped. “This is how it’s done. Everyone deserves a decent funeral and burial. Everyone deserves dignity and respect. And a prayer.” Even though there was no one with us, we could bury her with a full liturgy. Being created in God’s image, the sister we buried was given what we all deserve from each other: respect, dignity, and prayer.
I’m still humbled to have participated.