Every now and then, you experience a moment that is not what you expected or intended. I had such a moment one Monday night in 2009. The revamped Star Trek movie was in theaters and a couple of college students wanted to see one of the original cast’s big screen outing. We of course, skipped Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and started with Wrath of Khan. Everything was fine until [25-year-old spoiler alert] Spock’s funeral. When the bagpiped strains of Amazing Grace played, I lost it. Uncontrollable tears fell and I hunched over and clutched the couch. The college students at first thought I was really in to Star Trek. Once I regained my composure, I explained that it wasn’t the movie. I just experienced an intense memory of one of two funerals in January.
The two funerals are separated by 16 years, but both carried a profound impact and are inseparable in my mind. I’ve attended many funerals, but these two stand out. I was a pallbearer at both. One was for the oldest person I carried, the other the youngest.
The second took place in 2008 and was for my dear friend Evette. She was 33 and just didn’t wake up one morning. She is well-loved and the devastation I felt was nearly overwhelming. There were many moments leading up to the funeral when I broke down, unable to control my grief. The most intense came when my phone rang Sunday afternoon and I was asked to be a pallbearer. The honor of it crushed me.
I made it through the funeral, and even managed to hold it together through most of the graveside service. Then Amazing Grace, played on the bagpipes, flowed out through the cold January air. Bagpipes played by the same man who played at her wedding. I shook, not from the cold, as the reality of the moment crashed in to me.
I searched the faces of the others gathered and settled on one of my fellow pallbearers, my dear friend George. I found myself thinking of another funeral in January, the one for his father in 1992.
It was a very different funeral. While still sad, George’s dad was 98 when he died, and it was easier to handle. We mourned his passing, of course, but he lay down at the end of a long and full life. It seemed appropriate even while sad.
The honor of carrying James Shelton also weighed on me, but in a very different way. I was only 18, and I helped carry a veteran of the first World War. The icy wind whipped through the cemetery after the service and we all pulled our coats tightly about us. All of us except for George. He forgot to bring his.
He shivered in the cold until we noticed. We surrounded him and tightly huddled to shield him from the wind. He speaks often of that moment. Whenever he does, I get my own rush of warmth at having been there to share it.
In 2008, we all remembered our coats, but still we huddled closely. We did it not to protect from the wind, but from the cold that threatened to invade all of us. We were together, though. We had each other and our God.
The wind blew fiercely, the cold tried its best to seep in. But in that moment of grief, even in the grip of sadness, the precious bonds we share defeat the cold, the darkness. We stood almost overwhelmed by emotion, but we stood together and on that frigid day, in that terrible moment, at a time I should have felt despair, I knew warmth and it held the flickering flame of hope. I knew in that moment, we would endure.