Of all the things that have happened in leading a funeral service…well let me tell you the story.
For those of you who have or will arrange a funeral for a loved one, you start with the funeral home and the director. In an urban setting you have the ability to choose a funeral home, in a rural setting that isn’t always true. In a rural setting many families have had an ongoing relationship with the funeral director. In a rural setting I would see and work with the same funeral director over and over again and get to know him or her.
In an urban setting that was far less true and even dealing with the same funeral home might mean working with different staff.
This story is set in an urban setting and the funeral director was new to me. He was likely in his 40’s and was very professional. He did well communicating with me and his staff were very attentive to detail and to the family.
On the day of the funeral, and this was in early autumn, we had a bit of rain and I knew that the ground at the cemetery would be a bit soggy. However in these settings the staff at the cemetery would likely set out some boards around the edge of the grave and cover it with a green carpet giving it a softer look and a safer approach.
However I’ve always been aware that an open grave with muddy edges is a dangerous scenario and one that should be approached with care.
On the way to the cemetery the director and I had the usual conversation about what would happen once at the graveside. I told him I would as usual read Revelation 21 the first number of verses that speak to a new heaven and a new earth…. and as I always did I asked the funeral director if they had their bottle of sand and if they would mark the casket when I got to the part in the committal, earth to earth, ashes to ashes… and they would pour the sand on the top of the casket usually in the sign of a cross.
Then I would pray.
At the graveside it went as I expected and as we had talked about. With the family gathered close, and surrounding them their friends we proceeded with a few words, the Scripture and the committal. We got to the pouring of sand on the casket and the funeral director was standing at the other end of the open grave… and then I invited everyone to pray and I bowed my head….and closed my eyes.
When I opened my eyes the funeral director was no longer standing at the other end of casket.
Just as I was about to look around to see where he had gone I saw a muddy hand reach out of the grave…YUP…..he had slipped on the edge of the muddy grave side and while we were praying landed in the open grave.
To say that the family was suddenly distracted in the midst of their grief… is an understatement.
I confess I was tempted to laugh and if you know me you know how easily I do laugh. I kept control and took more engagement with the family as the funeral home staff moved to help their boss out of his embarrassing predicament. Of course getting out of a muddy hole means you’re pretty muddy when you are on dry ground…and the poor man was.
I don’t’ think I will ever forget seeing a muddy hand reach out of the grave….