“She was much too young to die,” says a stranger.
“She’s in a better place,” assures an old friend.
“Stop smiling! This is your sister’s funeral!” scolds my husband.
I can’t help but smile as I see my sister Bo resting before me. She has finally gone home after a long battle with cancer. Seeing her this last time takes me back to a very young age when I learned that death is nothing more than a gateway into heaven.
My first encounter with death came when my great-grandfather died. As we drove to Barnett Funeral Home to pay our last respects, Mama told us that Grandpa had gone to rest with Jesus in heaven. She said he was very happy there, so we should be happy, too.
At the funeral home, I was greeted by Margo, my nine-year-old cousin who some alleged was the spawn of Satan. Mama ushered us to a sofa and gave instructions that we were to sit there until she returned. “If you’re good, I’ll take the three of you for ice cream when we leave,” she bribed.
As soon as Mama was out of sight, I said to Margo, “This place sure is pretty. I wonder who lives here?”
Margo was quick to answer. “Nobody, dummy! There ain’t nothin’ here but flowers and dead people!”
“How do you know?” Bo asked.
“‘Cause I’ve been here a thousand times! This is where they keep dead people ‘til Jesus comes to get ‘em,” Margo explained.
“You mean there are more dead people here?” I asked.
“Lots of ‘em,” Margo claimed. “Come on and I’ll show you.”
I was in favor of the dead people tour, but Bo was apprehensive. “We better stay here, or we won’t get ice cream,” she reasoned.
Margo shamed her into compliance. “Okay, if you’d rather have ice cream than see Jesus come down and pick up the dead people, go ahead!” Reluctantly, Bo slid from the sofa to join the exploration.
Margo led us into a vacant, dimly lit room. “I don’t see no dead people in here,” I said.
“Oh. I guess Jesus must have picked them up yesterday!” Margo had an answer for everything.
“How come Jesus didn’t take him?” Bo asked, pointing to a deceased gentlemen in an adjoining room.
Margo pondered the question for a moment. “Because he was in the wrong room, and Jesus couldn’t find him.”
“Oh, no! We’ve got to help him! Let’s push him into Grandpa’s room where Jesus can find him,” I pleaded. The three of us thrust our bodies against the casket and rolled it into the adjoining room. Unfortunately, the vehicle became lodged between a doorway and a table before reaching its destination.
“He’s close enough. Jesus will find him here,” assured Margo.
We rushed back to Grandpa’s parlor just in time for Mama to find us sitting daintily where she had left us. “You girls have been so good!” she praised.
As we headed out the door for our promised treat, I heard a shrill voice scream, “What do you mean, you can’t find Daddy? He’s dead! Where could he have gone?”
After Grandpa’s funeral, we invented a game called Barnett Funeral Home. The game was played in the kitchen and required three players: a deceased, a crier, and a preacher. We would push two chairs together to make a casket. The deceased would lie across the chairs, eyes closed, holding an eggbeater in lieu of a flower. The preacher, dressed in a kitchen apron for a robe and a colander as a crown, was required to say nice things about the deceased. The crier was required to look sad and weep. We took turns playing the different roles, but Bo cheated. If allowed to play the coveted role of “dead person” first, she would quit when her time in the chairs ended. We had to make her go last to keep her honest.
As I look at Bo resting before me, I do not see death. Instead I see a little girl resting quietly between two kitchen chairs with a smile on her lips and a flower in her hands. Those around me weep, but I smile as the same voice that called her home now whispers comfort to my soul. “Come to me, ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28)
Rest well, Bo. I love you always.
© June 2004