This morning I drove out to Riverside National Cemetery. I received the call yesterday to do a funeral for someone who died and had requested a Methodist minister to do the service. The original call had gone to first church, but both of their pastors are out of town, so I was next in line. I was sick and getting worse and did not want to wear myself into the ground, so I tried to think of the alternatives. I knew Pastor C at the other UM was in Korea and wouldn't be able to help. I didn't know about Pastor D at the other other church. So I asked the secretary from first to give Pastor D a call and see if she could do it, if not, I'd take it.
She called back in minutes and said she wasn't available. So I took the contact info for the next of kin and started calling and putting info together. I had numerous calls throughout the day with family members to sort out the details and it felt like most things were in line. I didn't have any contact with the mortuary, but this is my third funeral here in Riverside and no contact with the mortuary is about par for the course. (For the record, I was a much bigger fan of working with the mortuaries in Hemet, they knew what was up....probably b/c they spent years working in a retirement community, but whatever).
So anyway, back to this morning, I pull up to the guard station 10 minutes ahead of time and say, "I'm here for the John ______'s" service. The nice man looks at me and says, "we don't have a service for that name scheduled today." Awkward silence. The man looks at me and says, "Is there any other name it would be under?" Umm...what about ______? Nope. Okay. "Well, I've been sending the family over to the administration building." Okay. Thank you.
So I drive to the administration building and see a bunch of folks waiting around. Not sure if they're the family or not since I've never met them before, I tentatively ask, "Excuse me, are you all the ______ family?" Fortunately they were and so I was introduced around. Then I checked in with the administrative people and tried to figure out what on earth was going on. They didn't seem to have a clue.
The family took it suprisingly well and was not torn up about the confusion. I can't say that I would be so level headed on a day like that. The brother even said to me, "Hey, we have everything we need, we have the body, we have the pastor, and we have all of us. We're not going to watch the burial anyway, we're just going to say goodbye." He was right. All we needed was a shaddy spot somewhere to remember and honor John. But I encouraged him to wait a little bit longer.
After about 15 minutes they finally got a shelter/gazebo for us and escorted us around to the back of the cemetary. It would have all been perfectly normal except for the cemetary guy who told the family "this is sort of out of the ordinary, this wasn't supposed to happen today, so we're pressed for time." His warning made me a little too conscious of time so I didn't allow for family members to share (not that there's a lot of time for that in the normal 15 minutes they allot anyway), and I forgot to say the scripture verse they had selected.
But otherwise, it was a decent service and they got to say goodbye to their loved one. And the words of the cemetary guy "this wasn't supposed to happen today" really couldn't have been more appropriate for a time of grief. I think that's how most of us feel when a loved one dies--"this wasn't supposed to happen today".
Scheduled or not death happens. It's hard and it's tragic. But it's also a part of life and when it does, we have to keep moving forward, even if it means an impromptu service at a strictly scheduled military cemetary.