Attending the funeral of someone who lived life well is like completing a masters-level course in an hour and a half. Lesson after lesson flies at you and you can’t quite catch each one, but you want to hold on to all of it if you can. I attended a funeral like this today for a lovely woman named Nancy.
I observed two things immediately which are hallmarks for the kind of funeral I’m talking about, the master’s class variety. The church was full and the family, every generation of it, was pretty emotional. You could see that this was someone who would be daily missed, someone who had meant a lot to those around her. Nancy made a difference.
One son described his mother as an ‘unsung hero’, and said that this kind of humble, steadiness was a quality she prized in others. She quietly observed people ‘doing their jobs’ without fanfare, and she gave them encouragements as they went…going to games, saying a kind word, making the cookies, being the listening ear. God knows we all need and prize people like this, but we rarely sing about them. They are largely ‘unsung’. Today was an exception.
This family sang! And by that, I mean they communicated their love for their wife, Mom, and grandmother in the well-chosen readings and beautiful words of the eulogies, but in addition, they sang every part of the Mass, songs so touching and true that the whole place was weeping.
One granddaughter sang the psalm, a son sang ‘Lady of Knock’ and then ‘Bring Her Home’, from Les Mis, so beautifully it was like hearing the original but with even more heart. Four of her children and a granddaughter sang a version of the Irish Blessing in harmony, working together and creating something more lovely than any one of them could have done on their own. You’d have to imagine that Nancy was enjoying every bit of it. It’s a mother’s dream, really, to see and hear something like that.
One son said that over the last days, people had approached him and expressed sorrow for his loss. “But she’s not lost” he said. “We know just where she is, don’t we?” He said she’s sailing again, riding the horses she loved with the people she loved who had gone before. His faith was beautiful, childlike, and true, like his parents’. He said, “We know where she is. We know.” And the whole place was nodding.
Living a life that increases the faith of other people and encourages them to live their best lives is maybe the highest level there is, but it isn’t often celebrated when it’s happening. A funeral can tell that story in a way that lasts, and Nancy’s story will stay with me. She may have been unsung in life, and it seems to me that’s just the way she wanted it, but they’re singing now. And so will I.