On Sunday, February 9, I attended a graveside service for a young cousin. He shouldn’t have died so young; no one really expected him to. We all take life for granted until it is snatched from us or from someone we love. Psalm 90:10 says that “the days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” At only forty, he had not come close to the three score and ten years before he flew away. He had been a bit under the weather for a few days before he keeled over with a massive heart attack, but no one had considered it really serious. Yet on that day, he was dead before anyone could even call the paramedics. His family fell immediately into a state of shock and grief.
More shock was awaiting them though. He had no insurance, so all the expenses associated with death and burial fell upon his survivors, none of whom are wealthy. His disabled mother eking out a living on social security couldn’t handle those expenses. His father died several years ago, but even had he been alive, he too lived on social security. Siblings, barely able to support themselves and their families on their meager salaries, were willing to help, but with what? This family then did what real families have done since time immemorial—they did it themselves. Who better to bury a family member than his loved ones? They gathered around and welcomed him into this life; they should fittingly be the ones to gather around to bid him farewell.
They asked the funeral director to provide only the least expensive and absolutely necessary services. Cremation is far cheaper than a funeral service with a casket, vault, head stone, and funeral. I don’t know what the family paid, but my research tells me that prices for cremation in this area range from as little as $500 to as much as $3000, depending on whether the funeral home makes the arrangements or the family makes them directly with the crematorium. When the urn or box with the ashes returns to the family, they take it from there.
At John’s service, his family sat on borrowed chairs to avoid the funeral home costs. A local church lent the chairs and the brothers hauled them to the cemetery and then back to the church. A preacher friend of the family spoke words of grace and comfort at the side of the grave, which the brothers Samuel and Herbert had dug with their own shovels brought from home. Their sweat fell into the grave as they worked on that unseasonably warm day, but they didn’t mind.
At some time during the service, the mother released a golden balloon simultaneously with a matching bouquet released by John’s sister. The rest of us watched solemnly as the balloons floated high into the cloudless blue sky and slowly out of sight.
The moving strains of “Go Rest High on that Mountain” filled our ears and came from a recording that the family had provided. What a beautiful song and a beautiful service for a beautiful soul gone too soon.