Funeral Teaches Mother and Son the Inestimable Value of Community
We have been profoundly changed by this funeral for such a good father, and our hope for heaven and trust in Christ’s promises has been strengthened
My 16-year-old son and I spent the morning together this past Saturday. This is a bit of a rarity, given my hectic weekend schedule of dropping off his younger siblings to birthday parties, sporting events, part-time jobs, babysitting gigs and whatnot. We were attending the funeral service of the father of one of his classmates at school. We both were profoundly changed by the experience.
My son attends a small Christian classical liberal arts school. And when I say “small,” I mean really small. There are around 35 students in each grade. It’s co-ed, but only up to a point. Boys study with boys, girls with girls. It’s a really sensible arrangement, as students are able to avoid some of the emotional complications of studying with classmates of the opposite sex while they are hitting puberty.
Being such a tiny place, there still is some interaction among the boys and girls — and especially so in 11th grade, when they take the stage together in a Shakespeare play. I was astonished by the acting talent on display. I have a hard time remembering phone numbers, and some of these kids memorized up to 600 lines. Amazing. During student evaluations, my son spoke of his surprised delight in overcoming stage fright and, most significantly, his appreciation of being part of an ensemble.
I guess that is why he knew that he had to be with his classmate and her family at the funeral service on Saturday. I suspect that was also what brought almost all of the students from the 11th grade there, as well. These kids — feeling the pressure of a rigorous academic program, the need to get a summer job lined up soon, and the stress of upcoming standardized tests and college applications — understand the value of community. And of accompaniment.
This beloved father of my son’s classmate unexpectedly passed away just days before Christmas. A native of Ghana, he was the head pastor of the local Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Hymns of praise were sung in English and Ewe — a language spoken in Togo and southern Ghana. There were prayers and tributes. I knew that the tribute from my son’s classmate, the youngest of three daughters, would be poignant — but nothing prepared me for its sheer power:
A giving father offers their time to their family and gives their life and soul for their children, wife and those who are close to them. They suffer for them, care for them, and do anything they need no matter the sacrifice of consequence. That is the type of father Daddy was: He was a father to everyone he knew and cared for, he gave all his time to those around him before thinking of his own needs.
As a child, even though my dad would correct me and teach me so many lessons when I did something wrong, my father loved me no matter what. He was always patient with me and never reacted with anger towards me. His love and patience for me are the memories I will carry with me forever.
I wept as I read these lines, because when this bereaved daughter talked about her earthly father, she reminded me of how I think about our Father in heaven.
Her sister’s tribute carried the same message. “He was never vicious or mean to us. Every reprimand was filled with the love of a father and the love of God.”
This beloved father was exceptional. His faith in and love for God was so strong and constant that God was reflected in him.
That such a wonderful person — devoted husband, father and friend — would be taken from his wife and children seems like a senselessly cruel blow. That’s why I was a bit surprised that the service, although one of mourning, did not convey even a hint of anger towards God. Instead, the family and faith community were at peace in the confidence that he was headed to his eternal resting place in heaven.
As his youngest, who was learning to drive with her father before he died, wrote: “I stand here today to say to my Daddy: ‘Goodbye friend, see you later,’ because this is not a goodbye, but just a drop off at his home, where he always belonged.”
As we headed back to our own home, my son and I spoke about the service. We spoke about the need to support his classmate and her family; we marveled at the many people in the extended community of faith that were with them and — even in this most harrowing of moments — give thanks to God. We spoke of hope for the hereafter, embracing our Divine filiation, and of making prayer a permanent reality of our lives.
We were exhausted. We were changed. It was a tribute to someone whose life reflected Christ’s words in John 15:12-13: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”