Today we’re on the road to Columbus for Aunt Lil’s funeral. Kayla and her boyfriend Gabe are here for Spring Break and they take the trip with us. I have my first synchronicity fo the day. As I reach for my sweater, I find on top of it hoodie I made back when Shayna was playing volleyball. The hoodie says “Bump. Set. Kill.” (a bit aggressive I know). The synchronicity is just a couple of days ago I was scrolling through old pictures and saw the first t-shirt I made with this phrase on it. I can’t recall the last time I looked at those pictures. And, I don’t know the last time I saw this hoodie or how it got mixed in with my sweaters. Is this a sign from Shayna that she’s here?
People have been giving me condolences for Aunt Lil’s passing. Maybe I should feel more sad than I do. I just don’t. Aunt Lil was 93 (or 94 if you believe Uncle Ronnie). She lived a good life. She was so robust and alive right up until the last few weeks living in her own home until October. Richard, her son, passed just a couple of weeks after she moved into assisted living. Just about five years ago, she pushed Shayna in a wheelchair at a family reunion in DC. Her gait had become slow. She jokingly called herself Tim Conway. She fell breaking her shoulder and a hip. They had said she would never walk again. She could no longer wear her high heels (which she hated. She called flats “teenager shoes”). I think she was ready to go and be with Uncle Bruzz, her daughter Joan, and to see Richard again.
We arrive in Columbus at the church Pop built. Dad’s father built what I believe was the largest church in Columbus at the time. At least it had to be the largest Pentecostal church. I’ve been back twice since I was a child, once last year for Uncle Jack’s funeral and today for Aunt Lil’s. Walking through those doors brings back memories- both good and terrifying. This is where I would play in the upper room with my cousins while Dad sat in the control booth recording Pop’s sermons. We were tucked safely away from the teachings of eternal damnation and a god who created us so flawed we deserved it. As the service goes on, I look up at the baptismal pool where I made my commitment to Jesus. Just behind it is the room where I tarried, crying out for the Holy Ghost to come save me from that god. This is where I spoke in tongues, giving myself the feeling at least temporarily, that I had saved myself. That was a joyous day. The pulpit is where Brent boldly walked up during one of Pop’s sermons to ask for the M&Ms Pop kept in the lectern to hand out fo us after the sermon. This is the sanctuary I sat in when some clown had the bright idea to blow a trumpet from the back of the sanctuary during a sermon, simulating Jesus’ coming back in the cloud and I, probably 10 years old at the time almost suffered a heart attack.
As I hear the funeral being preached, I’m white knuckling through it. I don’t go up and view the body. I call it the body, not Aunt Lil, because, Aunt Lil is no longer house there. She has left the building. The casket is open and people are standing there staring at her. I picture her and Shayna (and Joan and Richard and her 6 brothers and sisters who preceded her, and….) walking among us saying “We’re still right here.” When I go, BTW, there is to be no viewing of my body after I’ve left. No pictures of my body. No touching my body. To hold onto someone’s body after they have left is like visiting their house after they’ve moved.
The preacher is mixing metaphors and contradictory Bible passages and it’s driving me nuts. He’s talking about Aunt Lil trading in her signature hat collection for a “crown”, her killer dresses for a “robe”, her shoes to walk barefoot on “streets of gold”. I think back to a conversation I had with my mother years ago when she told me as a kid she didn’t want to go to heaven because streets of gold sounded gaudy and uncomfortable, rivers of milk and honey sounded gross, and playing a harp all day sounded boring. We can do better. We don’t have to rely on vague descriptions in the Bible to know what the place Aunt Lil is in is like. We have eyewitness reports from people who have been there and come back. We have reports from mediums who have contacted those who are there now. It’s not some imaginary place floating in the clouds. It’s a very real reality. Many who cross over don’t realize immediately they are “dead”. The preacher alternatively switches between the view the the dead in Christ are asleep waiting for His trumpet to wake them up and that Aunt Lil is already in heaven with her family. Which is it Preacher Man? It can’t be both. You’re confusing anyone who is actually paying attention.
The thing is we now can know. We have evidence. We don’t have to rely on metaphors (and most of these were written as metaphors) from millennia ago. The “dead” are not dead. Aunt Lil shed that old body and was present with “the Lord” Immediately. The Bible gets it right in a lot of places. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”. She was changed in an instant- probably long before her body took its last breath. She stepped out of this body and into her eternal Home.
Another thing he says that grates on me is that he reads the passage about Jesus returning and snatching up those who saved themselves by believing in Him and the rest of us taken up later. Every time I’ve ever heard this passage preached, the assumption is “we” in the audience and the preacher will still be alive when Jesus returns. Well, people have been saying this for millennia. I’ve been hearing it for over 50 years. The reality, my friends, is it’s much more likely we’re going to go see Jesus before He comes to see us. Almost everyone I heard preach that passage from those decades ago is among those either sleeping and waiting or already present with the Lord, depending on which of the preacher’s views you choose to believe.
The sadness I feel at funerals now is the sadness I first recall feeling around the age of 8 or 9 years old. It’s when I realized that one day I would die or my parents would die and we’d be separated. I guess when most people go to funerals, they feel sorry for the dead and leave going on about their day thinking the dead are the dead and we are the living and it will remain this way. Having a child suddenly make her transition will change that view real quick. I remember going to a family reunion in August of 2016. I thought to myself that at the next family reunion someone in this room would not be here. If I had had to guess, I would have thought my Aunt Lil who was 92 or 93 at the time (depending on who you believe). I would never have guess it would be my cousin’s son, who was only his his 20s at the time, taken in a car accident only a couple of weeks later). At every family gathering now, mostly funerals and reunions since my mother’s family has a reunion every year, I know that at the next family gathering one or more of us won’t be here. As much as I know it’s coming, I don’t know how I’ll deal with the pain of seeing my parents take their turn. And I hate the fact that either they or I will have to deal with this. I’ll go first or they will, but it’s inevitable. I try to prepare myself for that day.
We leave the service and head back to Mom & Dad’s house for desserts. I skip the graveside service. When I go, please no ceremony with the body. None. The body is not me. Let them take it away and burn it. Know that I’m not going to the ground or being turned into ashes. I’m right there with you.
We get back home. It’s Saturday night and since Kayla’s home we’d typically stay up late. But, she and Gabe are going out. It’s been a long day, so I head to bed early. I read for a bit and close my eyes to go to sleep. I’m prompted to open my eyes and glance at the clock. It’s 11:11, my second synchronicity of the day. I know Shayna and Aunt Lil are still right here. I can imagine Shayna being there to show her the ropes when she crossed over. I smile a little smile and fall asleep.