May 28, 2020

Besides looking for the living among the dead in cemeteries, as I did back in Hana when checking on Bill, the homeless man with a penchant for sleeping there, I’ve had some other surprising moments at cemeteries.  

One day, I arrived at a cemetery in Honolulu to serve as the officiant at the inurnment of a beloved elderly church member who had died.  Her urn was to be placed next to her deceased husband, in their family plot. It was immediately apparent that something was wrong. All parties were present, family, funeral director, pastor, and Mom in her urn. However, the cemetery staff had failed to prepare the site, hadn’t even dug the hole. The staff informed us that it would take about two hours to do so, and after some discussion, the family decided to proceed to the Chinese restaurant to eat the traditional funeral meal and return for the burial after lunch. Mom, in her urn, had the honored place at the table. Her family got a good laugh in reflecting on how like Mom it was to be late even for her burial.

On another occasion, I was to officiate at the burial of a veteran, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Punchbowl, as it was known locally, is an extinct volcanic crater that overlooks Honolulu. It is much like Arlington National Cemetery, beautiful, with a sense of solemnity and silence, and marked by thousands of crosses, as well as columbarium, large memorials to various battles, and flags everywhere. 

A sign above a body of water

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Rainbow Over Punchbowl

I proceeded to the committal shelter, a lovely open-to-the-air shelter, and performed the normal Christian committal service. When I was done with that, the military honor guard marched from their posts at the curb to the pavilion. They presented arms, performed the unfurling and folding the flag, and presented the neatly folded flag to the widow. Then it was time for the playing of taps by the bugler standing off to the side. Taps was always the most moving part of this protocol, and never failed to bring tears to my eyes. Except this time. The Bugler put his lips to the horn, and made to play the first note, and nothing came out. There was an awkward moment of silence, and we were all frozen in place. Then the funeral director stepped forward, apologized for the inconvenience, and said that due to dead batteries in the bugle, there would be no taps. You could almost see the family members deflate.

According to the funeral director, there are not enough bugle players to cover all the military burials, and so most committal services use a bugle with a hidden battery-operated musical device inside. Committal services are scheduled on the hour, so there was no time to find and install a new battery without creating a burial back-up.

I’ve thought about those two funerals, and how important planning ahead is. But even more than that, I’ve wondered about how one family was able to adapt, taking Mom out to enjoy a great Chinese luncheon before her burial, and one family left with a bad taste in their mouths. Each family had expectations that were not fulfilled. Each responded differently, thinking in terms of gifts versus entitlements.

That feels like a lesson for this season in life, when so many of our expectations have not been met, when reopening our communities and our churches will be very different than we expected. I want to find the tasty morsels that lie outside of my expectations, rather than ruminate on the bad taste of disappointment.

Blessed in what is ~ Anne

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