As one who was a pastor for 20 years, I have walked through a lot of funerals. One thing I always noted was that when a person had to bury their second parent, this event would often have a much greater impact upon them than the death of their first parent. Well, I just went through this myself and as usual, experience brings a new level of insight.
As a child, I was always very close to my mother. When she died over 15 years ago, her death was difficult of course, but she had fallen victim to early onset Alzheimer’s and died not even knowing who I was after three long years in a nursing home. So in some ways her death was a relief, an end to her decade of suffering. And now, earlier this year, my father died at the age of 80. His body was severely run down and his suffering was great these last few years as well, so there was some relief in seeing his suffering end as I held his hand and watched him breathe his last at 4:18 am on May 31st.
Yet as soon as he was gone, a new reality hit me. It hit me that I was not only going to bury my father, I was going to bury “home”. When my mother died there was definitely a void in life, but home remained. Then, with my father’s death, it hit me that “home” had to be buried as well. And strangely enough, home seems to be the hardest funeral of them all because there is no relief whatsoever in losing home. Home was not suffering, home was not in pain and home was not lonely, so there is no relief in this funeral. It is a funeral filled only with loneliness accompanied by the uneasy feeling of being unmoored and tossed out to sea with no more anchors. This is not true, of course, but it is the overwhelming feeling and one that can easily unhinge us.
In my case, my father still lived in the house where I grew up as a child, which makes it even more difficult. As I walk through our old house, there is a memory in every corner. There is the back of the den where as a small child I paced and cried with an infinite number of ear infections. There is the front of the den where I dutifully sat in front of the television serving as my father’s human remote control before the electronic versions existed. Further back in the house are the doors I painted for the first time as I learned how to paint and the bathroom where I fought acne as an insecure teen. And finally, perhaps most special to me, is our modest 6’ x 6’ concrete porch with indoor/outdoor carpet where I sat on the steps so many afternoons . . . talking on a cordless phone, waiting to be picked up by friends, having deep, meaningful talks with my mom or just taking a break after literally hosing off all the filth that was a part of working a full day as a laborer for my dad’s business, Carnes Construction Company.
Now all these things are going to be lost. They will be sold off to someone who doesn’t know about them or appreciate their history. And for me . . . I can never go home again. I will have the memories, but “home” is no more. I can never see all those things again and have those memories flood through my mind. And intuitively, I know this will cause the memories to fade even faster. Over the last 25 years, I have lived in Russia, Thailand and 5 different states within the United States and no matter how far or for how long I journeyed, I could always go home. It was an anchor for me. I had a root in Alabama City, AL that was 25’ deep at 3704 Roselawn Drive and that root anchored me to something, to some people, that seemed almost eternal in a world where everything else is constantly shifting. And suddenly, almost violently, that root was yanked from the ground on May 31st and laid on top of the soil to dry out and die in just a few days. I’ll be the first to admit I was not prepared for that. I was prepared for my father’s death, as he had been diagnosed with lung cancer 6 months earlier. But I was not prepared to lose this anchor. I was not prepared for my brother to put his arm around me and say “now we are orphans”. I was not prepared to bury home.
Before leaving Alabama City, I loaded up my wife and daughters and drove them through the mill village where my grandparents worked and where my parents grew up. I showed them the simple mill houses and explained to them what life was like for my parents, a life without cars, without travel and with very little money as the children of Dwight Mill. A life where an old spare tire was my father’s most treasured toy, a life where meat was a luxury to be enjoyed only on Saturdays when a chicken was butchered. I wanted them to see and understand just a small portion of this deep root I have in this area and take some pride in their strong, humble roots. I don’t know if they got it or not, but it was goodbye for me . . . a painful goodbye that clearly reminded me how even the deepest roots in this world are temporary. A goodbye that reminded me of why God says we are to live as aliens and strangers in a foreign land just passing through on our way to an eternal home, a home that does not even have the words “goodbye” or “death” in its vocabulary. A goodbye that shatters any silly notions about heaven on earth and replaces them with a simple “earthling” longing for heaven.
Rest in Peace Mother. Rest in Peace Daddy. And Rest in Peace “Home”.