Pop died Thursday night. The funeral was held today. Between then and now, a great many details had to be arranged very quickly. Planning meetings were held, work was delegated, and everyone performed flawlessly.
Sacrificing her comfort (and often her sanity), Elizabeth stayed with Mom at Piedmont Place from Thursday and will remain there through Tuesday night. Her assignment is to ensure that Mom is as okay as she can possibly be. Also, she employed her gift for scrapbooking to great effect by assembling a picture board of Pop through the years. I hadn’t seen some of these pictures in quite some time.
Michael, who lives in Europe and can’t be in the states as often as he’d like, spent a fair amount of time with Mom yesterday. At the same time, he helped Elizabeth with the picture board. Michael’s main assignment, however, was to officiate the funeral. He is an ordained minister, after all, and therefore perfect for the job. We discussed matters with George and Sally (George has led a fair number of funerals in the many years of his own ministry), developed ideas, and then came to my house to firm up an order of service.
My assignment, I suppose, was to drive the bus and to ensure that all the details were completed. I met with the funeral parlor to lock down their functions and our family wishes of which there were a fair number. Some were handed down from Pop himself in a meeting I’d had with him a few years ago. Others came from discussions with my siblings and with Mom. Another task was the creation of a PowerPoint map to get people from the burial site to my house for what I called “The Afterglow.” (I took some heat for that name from my siblings.)
And so it was time. The limo picked up Mom & Elizabeth at Piedmont Place, and then Michael, Lisa and me, and my son Jeremy and his wife Kim; from here we went to the funeral home. We had private time with Pop in an open casket after which it was closed for the public gathering and the funeral itself. A side note: since this was to be a closed casket, he was embalmed as is, and still had the mustache and goatee. Mom liked it! Also, Pop had asked me some time ago to print for him the final schedules for the NC State Wolfpack football team and for the Carolina Panthers. Those schedules are now available, so I left them with him. Senseless? Maybe. But he was a particular man, and I’m one to make good on my promises. So into Pop’s hands the schedules went before the lid went down.
Mom expected perhaps a dozen people to come for the visitation and funeral. I don’t know the tally, but it was many times that number. She, of course, was the focus of everyone’s attention and was a trooper – often standing to hug someone – until I’d coax her back onto her high chair (she’s short vertically-challenged). The rest of us greeted folks warmly and tried to move the line along. It took all of fifty minutes. Then the assembled were moved to the chapel, the family had a prayer, and then we, also, moved to the chapel.
I greeted a nearly-full chapel, told them what we had planned, introduced members of the family and then introduced my brother who took the service through to its end. Along with that, he delivered a eulogy which had taken three days to prepare. Details of Pop’s early life and accomplishments; his prolific writing of sacred music; his impact on lives in many ways and places; his spirit of always looking forward; even his sports team loyalties. Michael had written the eulogy word for word, yet rarely referred to the written page. George sang two songs Pop had selected especially for him; one simple, one extremely difficult. George said laughingly that Pop had exacted his final revenge. Nevertheless, he did a magnificent job with the music.
We then experienced a long funeral procession with a police escort. Our limo, containing family, was often noisy with banter, and silent with inner thought. Michael, Elizabeth, my son Jeremy and I were among the six pallbearers carrying the coffin from the hearse to the gravesite where Michael delivered a short prayer, as was Pop’s wish. Then an Army Reserve Honor Guard saluted while taps was bugled perfectly from fifty feet away. It was chillingly awesome. Then the ritual folding of the American flag which was draped over the coffin to honor Pop’s military service, and then reverentially presented to Mom. The military part of this ceremony was the most impactful to me. In my own six years in the Air Force, I was always deeply struck with ceremony and bestowals to deserving service personnel.
Jeremy and Kim distributed maps to my house where we had a wonderful time with a whole bunch of nice people. The food was great; the people were fun; I think everyone had a really good time. Along with this came stories of what Pop had meant to this person or that.
My father made an impact on this earth and pursued his eternal reward in his own way. And, after all, isn’t that what life’s all about?