The mortician and his assistant pushed the heavy casket down the center isle of the small chapel. The pastor, his prayer book in hand and a somber expression on his face, led the way. Six of Larry’s buddies were lined up to receive the box. They wore new jeans, old suit jackets, and mullets. They lifted the casket off the dolly and slowly inserted it into the back of the car.
Larry’s family waited in the limo owned by the funeral home. Julie and her family sat in a limo rented just for the occasion.
The minister went back inside for his coat. As he placed his arm through the first sleeve, he looked up to see a large man approaching. The pastor recognized him as the gentleman who pushed the wheelchair for Julie. The minister smiled pastorally.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” The smile quickly left. The pastor’s mouth opened but nothing came out.
“Did you even know Larry had a wife? ‘Cause you sure didn’t mention her in there!” The man jerked his thumb in a violent motion over his shoulder in the direction of the chapel.
“I’m sorry, sir.” The pastor, shocked and surprised, made a quick attempt to think through his sermon.
“He was married, ya know!”
“Yes sir. I, um….”
“You talked about the grief of his mother and father. You talked about his friends and his work but you didn’t say nothin’ about Julie!” The veins on the man’s neck were bulging. His face was red with anger.
“I’m sorry but I thought…under the circumstances….”
“That’s right!” The man interrupted, “with the circumstances that her husband is dead, you’d think a preacher would want to mention that he had a wife!” And he turned and walked away.
As the underpaid-pastor-for-hire pulled on the other sleeve of his coat, he thought about his sermon, again. The man was right. In a “normal” service, he would have stated “Larry was a loving husband to his wife.” But it seemed out of place here, unless he would add, “and a wonderful lover to his girlfriend.” The pastor shook his head, smiled, and then frowned.
The mortician held the door for the preacher as he climbed into the hearse. It was a quiet ride to the graveside. Between the mortician, the pastor, and Larry, no one had much to say.
The pastor began the graveside service with a short prayer. As he said the AMEN, he looked up to see the large, older gentleman deliberately place his hand on Julie’s shoulder and glare. It was in that moment that the pastor knew what to say. He approached the wheelchair and knelt down so that he was speaking only to the widow.
“Julie,” he began slowly, allowing every head to turn to her battered face. “I realize this entire event has been very painful for you, physically as well as emotionally.” The large man kept his hand on her shoulder and held his gaze on the pastor.
“Julie, I do not believe there are any words that can be expressed at this time that will ease your pain. I can think of nothing to say to you. But I can offer the words of James to the others gathered here.”
With this, the pastor raised to his full height and looked at each person assembled, stopping at the man with his hand on Julie’s shoulder. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”
The pastor spoke slowly and deliberately. “It is the duty of each person here to see you through this difficult time, Julie. The days in the past have been very hard. The days ahead will be even harder. God calls each person here today to help you through these tough times. You will need their help and the strength of God to see you through this.”
“No words from any pastor during a short funeral service will make your days any easier. Kind thoughts, sympathy cards, or floral arrangements will not take away the pain. Only time, and support from those near you, will help get you through this terrible time in your life.”
The committal, a prayer, and a moment of silence followed. As the family and friends left the graveside, the large man shot a look at the pastor then wheeled Julie away before the he could offer any more condolences.
Larry’s father and mother walked past the minister. He offered his hand and they turned their heads sharply away, without a word. Later, the pastor would learn that they were offended that the girl who killed their son had come to the funeral. The fact that the pastor spoke to her, giving her the spotlight, was the final straw. This one thoughtless act forever tainted their son’s memory.
The minister rode in the hearse back to the funeral home. The mortician thanked him for the help. He thanked the mortician for the unusual experience then got into his car, drove to the bank, and quickly cashed the check.