How we view the end of life is a reflection of how we view life itself – it’s a question of perspective.
Those of you who have been around here a while may recall that a couple of years ago I became treasurer of our church cemetery, aka the Crypt Keeper. There’s a surprising amount of work involved in keeping a cemetery going. We have a couple of guys who go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure the place runs smoothly, but they can’t do everything. We have professionals mow the grass and the expense of having that done every week in season is the bane of my financial existence. It can’t be helped. Few mourners want their loved ones laid to rest somewhere they’d need a machete to visit. To accomplish the one-thousand-and-one other chores that must be done, however, we rely on parishioner volunteers to come out and help on our annual cemetery clean-up day. That fun event took place recently.
The volunteers deserved double blessings this year since it was hot enough out there to fry an egg on Great Aunt Fanny’s tombstone. In case that wouldn’t have been, you know, rather tacky. Actually, it would be downright weird. But I digress… Our sexton must consult Poor Richards Almanac, star charts and the Psychic Network so he can schedule clean-up day for the hottest day of the year. There’s no way it’s merely coincidence that that’s what it lands on every, single year.
I started out pulling weeds and rubbing Armor All on the big, plastic letters on the sign out front. After that, red as a lobster and drooping like grocery store roses the minute you get them home, I picked a job in the shed. There I found shade and, miracle of miracles, a fan. I also found rolls of rugs leaning in the corner like it was Ali Baba’s Rug Bazaar.
They were bright, green area rugs made of AstroTurf. You’ve probably seen these if you’ve ever been to a graveside service. They’re laid over muddy spots in the ground so it’s easier for people to walk to the grave-site. They’re also used to cover the grave, which workers dig ahead of time.
I unrolled the rugs one by one, got down on my hands and knees and brushed them with a stiff bristle brush to remove the caked-on mud and grass. Then I took them outside to shake and vacuum before rolling them back up and returning them to the corner, ready for their next appearance. I was cogitating while I was agitating.
We veil the hole in the ground because that opening is a tough pit for most of us to look in.
It’s tough in that moment because someone we care about is gone, and death makes us sad. It may be natural and expected if the deceased lived a good, long life, but we still grieve because we’re going to miss them. If the person was young, or their passing was sudden or traumatic, the sadness of death can be almost unbearable.
Thinking about the dearly departed isn’t the only thing that bothers us when we look into an open grave, though. That hole in the ground reminds us that this fate awaits every one of us. As Shakespeare so elegantly said:
Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.
Translation: Ain’t none of us getting out of this gig alive.
Most of us don’t like to think about this fact very much – I certainly don’t. Death is the ultimate question. It is THE big unknown and that makes the whole process rather scary. When those fears strike me, I remind myself that this passage, this death, is a natural and inevitable part of life. And if you believe in a merciful God, then eternal life with Him awaits us at the journey’s end.
It’s a matter of perspective. Some look down at that green rug and see only the muddy remnants of sorrowful footsteps. But the faithful see a magic carpet which will lift us up, soaring, on the ride of our lives.
This post is dedicated to heaven’s newest angel, my dear cousin, Moe. Fly high, sweetie. Soar!