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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Key (02/14/13)

TITLE: Energy from an Em-Dash Existence
By Noel Mitaxa


Beryl’s funeral would not be easy.

Even before I put the phone down, I began to wonder why I’d told the funeral director that my diary was clear…

I’d never met her, she was ninety-six, and thirty years a widow. Her son Mark was flying in from the west coast—four hours away, and her daughter Dianne was flying over from Europe—twenty-four hours away. Both staying for the shortest possible time, for they had not seen Beryl in years and they weren’t on speaking terms…

Normally, taking funerals for people I’ve never met is not a problem, for I can focus on how their families or friends want to honour them, so the service offers them more personal comfort. If they have no church contact, it’s a privilege to escort them along the edge of eternity and invite them to explore God’s grace within their grief, pointing to Jesus as the doorway into his grace.

But here I seemed to be locked out of what I needed to know. Sure, at ninety six Beryl had outlasted most peer pressure, but I was unlikely to get any input from her friends.

All I unearthed was that she was born at Derrinallum, a small town that sits below Mt Elephant, an extinct volcano named after its irregularly-shaped profile. This detail may seem ‘irrelephant,’ but in her whole life she had travelled less than a hundred miles from there to Bannockburn, where she died. Her railwayman husband had worked on track maintenance along the flat, otherwise featureless grasslands that stretch way beyond each of these towns; grasslands that southern Australia’s steam locomotive drivers had dubbed Pleurisy Plains after their bone-chilling winds.

Her funeral seemed destined to be as featureless as her whole life and its topography; ironically like an em dash on a headstone: a definable beginning, a definable end with so little between them—such as me trying to fill a sullen silence between the only two people I could expect to attend.

A memorable throwaway line from our college lecturer seemed a hollow echo—“We don’t conduct services: we minister God’s grace to people at their points of openness or need”—for neither Mark nor Dianne was indicating any openness at all.

While preparing her service, my prayers kept picking unsuccessfully at the invisible lock that barred access to any clue that might give life to her memory.

Arriving at the funeral chapel, I was surprised to see a group of twenty- and thirty-year olds in the foyer, well before we were due to start. Introducing myself as the celebrant, I asked with barely-concealed curiosity, “How did you know Beryl?”

From their response, I quickly gained Mark’s approval for a change.

After welcoming a crowd which was now standing-room only, I invited an open mike moment for anyone to share a tribute. To be met with a stream of people coming forward, with comments that drew laughs and tears which suddenly emerged as the key to that elusive openness which my college lecturer had urged us to address.

Energy arose from Beryl’s em-dash existence, once she decided to redirect her grief into generosity. She began daily visits to the Bannockburn kindergarten, which quickly adopted her as its volunteer granny; a new career of almost twenty years in which she had left her mark on all those who were now sharing their appreciation.

They recalled how she had read stories to them, brought their birthday cakes, dispensed hugs, wiped their noses and dried their tears. Any children from stressed or fractured homes felt secure and accepted, which overcame their sense of not belonging. In making them feel special, she helped them to appreciate how special their friends were. Now, in recalling their roots this day, they were finally saying thank-you, many tearfully realising they could not thank her personally.

In wrapping up, I invited them to borrow from Beryl’s book, to accept that not even grief can stop us from accepting life as a “do it now, do it with God and do it for others” opportunity. For the recognition will come—firstly from that inner confirmation that in doing it for the least of these, we do it for him*—and even decades later, as it had now come for Beryl.

*Matthew 25: 40

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This article has been read 405 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Beth LaBuff 02/21/13
What an amazing legacy. I love the complete change from what I assumed her funeral would entail. I wish I could have seen the reaction from her son and daughter. (My Dad lives one mile from the house where he was born. He takes pride in telling other's that's all the farther he's gotten in life. :))
Danielle King 02/22/13
What a lovely funeral Beryl's turned out to be. There was nothing irrelephant about this old lady's life, as everyone realised eventually. It shows how easily we can make wrong assumptions about people, while they just go quietly about their business being there for others.

This is a lovely, heart-warming story, especially as it's a personal experience.

I'm ashamed to say I had to google em-dash. I thought it was one of your Noelogisms!
Virgil Youngblood 02/22/13
Mark and Dianne returned home with a message to ponder, and now - so have we.
Cheryl Harrison02/22/13
I love your title and your story. May we all have an em-dash that reflects the love of Jesus. Good job!
Linda Goergen02/22/13
This captured my attention beginning to end...and I was thrilled with the ending! Just look what Beryl meant to so many, when her own family seemed to have shunned her and that seems to be true in far too many families and it is so sad. I am so happy Beryl’s funeral ended up reflecting and celebrating who she truly was. This was such a well written story and I really enjoyed the read.
Leola Ogle 02/22/13
What a delightful story, made all the more so because it's true. How wonderful for Beryl that she dedicated her final years to making an impact on others - school children who appreciated her. May we all live out our last years in service to others as Beryl did. Great job! God bless.
Fiona Stevenson02/23/13
The comments so far say it all. Brought back memories of a funeral I attended where the officiating minister was a recently arrived locum who didn't know the lady at all. She had a large family and many friends, all present. The 'locum' had communicated with none of them, admitted no knowledge, offered no comfort, and preached the worst sermon I have ever sat through. Praise God for the vastly different "Beryl" service. God bless you.
C D Swanson 02/23/13
Touching and simply moving. What a wonderful job of the topic. God bless~
Judith Gayle Smith02/23/13
Thank you for introducing me to her. Lovely.
Ellen Carr 02/24/13
What a great story. Great to hear of Beryl's impact on the children, now older. I know Derrinallum and Mt Elephant,having driven past them many times!
Alicia Renkema02/24/13
Funerals / memorial services can really change lives... I have been to a few that really impacted mine where I did not know the deceased at all or not very well. It is so wonderful what God does with a life well lived regardless of what others thought they saw or didn't see in a person. As always, you did such a great job in describing your character's, their attitudes and feelings; making us all feel like we wished we had known your Beryl. I also loved the very appropriate Bible Passage of Matthew 25, it is a passage as Christians, I don't think we consider often enough. Thanks be to God, we can all be "Em-dashes", when we let our light shine as Beryl did.
Susan Montaperto02/24/13
A very inspiring story. We never know how God will choose to bless us, especially at a funereal!
God Bless.
Myrna Noyes02/25/13
Your powers of description are aptly showcased in this touching, inspiring story! Your first couple lines immediately piqued my curiosity, and I greatly enjoyed the unfolding of this true tale. Great job!!
Bea Edwards 02/25/13
What an unexpected and pleasurable turn of events. Your story initially seemed to describe such a forlorn existence but then exploded into a unique and happy ending with a wonderful lesson to boot. Well done!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 02/28/13
Congratulations on ranking 26 overall!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 02/28/13
This is beautiful. You brought tears to my eyes. I have nightmares that no one will attend my funeral so I could relate to the beginning part. Then you gave me a sense of hope and love to which I'll cling. I also loved the em-dash reference.
Judith Gayle Smith02/28/13
Congratulations! May God bless you richly . . .