The family had no church affiliation but wanted a religious service. The pastor’s phone rang a few days later. “I know it’s a tough situation, but would you be able to help?” The request of the funeral home director was desperate. The pastor was happy to help. For $50, the pastor would do anything.
The pastor met with Larry’s mother and stepfather the night before calling hours. They had little to say about Larry but were quick to talk about Julie. They explained how Larry’s death was her fault. He would never have gone to the bar but she insisted. He didn’t even drink that much, really. Oh, sure, a few beers now and then, but he was a very good boy. She must have gotten him drunk.
Besides, they went on, Larry had a girlfriend, and they were very happy together. They had been happy for three years. The minister did the math. Larry and Julie had been apart for less than six months. Larry had been happy with his girlfriend for three years. This entire event was becoming complicated. After another hour of questions without answers, the minister went home to begin writing his sermon.
The funeral was the next morning. For obvious reasons, the casket remained closed and the minister was grateful. As the mourners filed in, they approached the casket, touched it, dabbed tears from their eyes, and found a seat. In the stillness of the chapel, the organ-on-tape played quietly over the speakers. And then Julie entered. She was pushed in a wheelchair by an older gentleman. The pastor guessed him to be her father. She had bandages around her head. Her eyes were black, her face swollen. The man parked the chair at the end of the front row.
From his seat, the pastor looked at those gathered. His focus returned to Julie. Without the bruises and the gauze, she was probably a beautiful, young woman who, only a few days prior, had her entire life ahead of her. But today she was a lonely, heartbroken 23-year-old widow attending her husband’s funeral in bandages and casts, with his girlfriend sitting two rows behind. Her life had taken a terrible turn on an already lost and winding path.
When the music stopped, the pastor-for-hire stood, said a prayer, read a verse, and attempted to speak kind words about a drunken man who killed himself in a fit of rage. He spoke about Larry’s love for his mother, father, brother, and sisters. He spoke of Larry’s work and hobbies. He reminded those gathered of their tragic loss and God’s grace in the midst of this terrible time.
As he said these words, the minister looked at the dry, hollow eyes of Larry’s wife, staring at the altar flowers. He then looked over her head, two rows back, into the puffy, tear-filled eyes of Larry’s girlfriend.
At the conclusion of the service, a family member wheeled Julie to the casket. She sat without moving, her one good hand firmly placed in her lap, her eyes fixed on the flowers. They rolled her away without a sound. When the family had left, Larry’s girlfriend walked slowly, unsteadily, to the wooden box and placed her hand on the lid. She wept quietly. After a time, some older man took her arm and led her away.
The minister stood alone in the quiet of the chapel at the head of the casket, his black suit neatly pressed, his service book clutched in his right hand, the funeral home’s check in his breast pocket.