Friday, April 19, 2013

Attending a Funeral

Today, I went to a cemetery - for the usual reason people go– bidding farewell to someone.  It has been years since I’ve actually been to one without a camera, and I felt a bit odd to be a part of the event, and not a detached watcher across the way.

On a windy hill in a tiny country cemetery, I stood with others under the bright April sunshine as another soul was remembered. 

And I wondered how many people had stood on that tiny hill, remembering someone dear, while clergy and friends try to console but can only offer a partial understanding of the grief, and an allocation of hope.

A Korean veteran, the deceased was given Military Funeral Honors by local American Legion members.  As the detail leader presented the folded U.S. flag to his wife, he explained what each color stood for; “The blue in the flag represents the sea and sky and stands for justice.  The red in the flag represents valor and the blood shed by American heros who sacrified for our freedom.  The white stripes in the flag symbolize our liberty.”  I have seen this presentation of the flag many times on television, but have never attended a veteran’s funeral and heard what words may be said to the family.

The ‘three volley of musketry’ salute to a fallen comrade, an American military custom, was sharp in the morning air – three shots fired in quick succession.  Then the call “Bugler” came, and I knew I wouldn’t make it through with dry eyes.  The haunting sound of Taps was fitting and filled the air with long sweet notes, played by one man, his weathered face slightly raised toward the sun…

Then came the command to ‘Order arms’ and the seven older veterans soldiered their rifles on their shoulders and began their slow walk back across the hill, and into their normal day.

As various scriptures were read, I remembered the first time I had met Bob.  He and his wife, MaryAnn, close friends of one of my dearest friends, Terry, had attended a play we were in.  It was my first venture into theatre and I had landed a lead against a seasoned actress.

As we stood in front of the stage after the performance, meeting and greeting those who had attended, Bob had shaken my hand and said, “You two have a sort of magic up on that stage – You play well off of each other – You can make people laugh.  What a wonderful gift.”

Terry and I have gone on to star opposite each other in numerous shows, and each time Bob and MaryAnn were in attendance, until his health became too bad for them to continue.

But every time, before I step onto that stage in front of an audience, I think of those words… – "You can make people laugh. What a wonderful gift."   Indeed, it is. And what a wonderful, touching compliment for an actor to hear.

As the service drew to a close, a lone bagpiper stood on the crest of the hill, stately in his jacket and kilt.  The plume on his hat swayed in the breeze.  As the final prayer died away, ever so gently, he began to play - Amazing Grace.

With each sonorous note, it seemed as if he were drawing the sound up from the earth, releasing it with the bellows he controlled under his arm. I turned toward him, the only one in the small gathering, to watch. And in that moment, I understood just how important a cemetery really is – It not just as a place to bury our dead, to memorialize them, to go and remember in; it is also a place where we separate and say goodbye, where bonds are broken, where we must let go and release them, in order to grasp the parting of ways.

Lost in the moment, I realized the music had changed; the sound was starting to recede.  When I looked up, the bagpiper was walking away, slowly, toward the sun, head held high, kilt and red plume blowing in the prairie wind. And in that moment, I could picture Bob walking beside him, following the music to see where it would lead.
The bagpiper crested the hill and was lost from view – but the final notes hung on the air for a moment, before being whipped skyward in a mixture of finality, and tumultuous expectation….

~ Joy


  1. What a great send of for Bob no doubt it would have filled him with pride. Afraid to say the last funeral I wen to it was only the family there, none of his so called friends turned up.

  2. That's a shame Bill. But, he was remembered by people who loved and cared for him, and that is the most important tribute we can pay...

  3. Joy, I too love cemeteries. They are such beautiful and peaceful places. I try to imagine what what it was like the day the person was buried, particularly the older graves. Or, I wonder what happened when someone was young. I love reading the tributes left by others. They are places with many stories to tell, waiting for someone just to come by and listen.

  4. Touching post. Just found your blog and will be back to read more.


  5. Joy~ I comment on behalf of Maryann, his wife, Keith, his youngest son and myself, Ivie Wright-his daughter-in-law (Keith's wife). Bob is smiling down upon you in a very large way. Such a beautiful tribute~ and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We were so blessed at all the people who came to his funeral, and we were so impacted by the stories they told us of what Bob meant to them and all he imparted in their life. Bob was not only a teacher, he was always quick with a compliment and in encouragement. I will always believe he is one of the most intelligent men I have ever met. Even today we continue to find lessons from him. He left them everywhere for us! Bob was actually quite simple. He was about honor, respect, country and God. He was a very passionate man~ He'd give the shirt off his back because material things, were just that, material things and if he could bring joy to someone, he did. Easily, and freely. He called me Ivy Lou since I was 14 years old, and only people who loved me as much as him, or knew me as he did has ever been allowed to call me that;) See it meant something when he said it. Bob and I were a lot a like- we mirrored each other in many ways and that meant in our walk together, we surely got to know each other very well! Our passions are sometimes quite hard for others to understand~ but, he and I understood it and loved each other deeply. He taught me everyone makes mistakes, and to always forgive, but to especially forgive myself for my own mistakes and keep trying. He taught me that sometimes people let you down in big ways, but they need to live their own life; forgive. He taught me unless you walk in another persons shoes you never, truly, know or understand their lives, be kind. Don't judge. Just love, and give them peace. He always loved me, deeply, no matter what. This is a wonderful tribute to Bob and we thank you so much, and we are so blessed to know how he impacted your life also. Love and prayers from his family~

    1. Thank you so much, Ivy! Bob was, indeed, a good man and I feel honored to have known him!

  6. Hello, Can you tell me where you got the image of the folded up American Flag on your Korean veteran article? It has moved me so much that I would like to know where the image generates? Thanks so much! KJK