My paternal grandfather died back in 1966, and it was the first time that a family member passed away that I knew on a personal level. His death bothered me – not because of the relationship I had with him – but because it impacted my father so dramatically. It was the first time that I saw my father sob uncontrollably and it really troubled me to see my father so upset.
The next year, my great aunt died – she was raised as a sister to my maternal grandmother and I distinctly remember coming home from school and noticing my mother exceedingly quiet. She couldn’t even bring herself to share the news with us – after all, she had been raised with Auntie Lou actually living in the same home and for the first time in my life, I saw my mother, and her mother, seem lost. I was also raised with Auntie Lou and in some odd way, I was shell shocked at her untimely and speedy death. After all, she had been to the doctor the day before and was pronounced in great health. But she died from congestive heart failure, at home, with her family by her side. Except for my bothers and me – we were in school.
Auntie Lou was a simple person. She lived with Grandma and Grandpa and had been a part of the family since my grandparents were first married. She never married and tried not to be a financial burden to the rest of the family. So she had requested that she be cremated – she thought it would be the cheapest option and would be easier on Grandpa than to have to pay for a regular funeral and burial. Needless to say, Grandpa would have none of that and made sure that she was buried in the immediate family gravesite with all the trappings of how funerals were conducted back in the late sixties.
And then, after suffering a stroke, my maternal grandfather, Victor LaRue, died on March 24th and was buried on March 27, 1972 – 42 years ago Thursday. It was different from the other deaths that I had experienced in the family. This was the first time that I really personally mourned the loss of a loved one – based on my own relationship with him – not on how my mother or father were impacted by the death. I couldn’t believe that he was gone. He had always been larger than life to me – the patriarch of the family and I couldn’t see how life would go on without him. How I remember his visitation and subsequent funeral. In fact, I remember how Mom didn’t like the way he was positioned in his casket. It became the first time that I touched a dead person – I didn’t know what to expect.
And although I knew intellectually that Grandpa was dead, I had only experienced his warm touch and now his body was lifeless, rigid and room temperature. It was eerie. But it was important to Mom that he looked as good as possible in the casket and so I helped her. I know this all sounds creepy – and you know what – it was… As I look back on it, I can’t believe it even today.
And I remember the drive to Oakwoods Cemetary on the south side of Chicago – where the family had 18 graves with a large monument. Grandpa’s baby sister, who died as a very young girl, and his mother, who died when Grandpa was 13, were both in nearby graves. It was the same cemetery where Mom learned how to drive and near the little lake where we used to have picnic lunches as we watched the swans swim gracefully as we ate. Grandpa loved going to the cemetery to spent alone time – deep in thought remembering his own mother and sister.
I even remember gathering inside the entrance of Oakwoods – ready to follow the hearse to the gravesite for the brief service. And then those famous words, “ashes to ashes – dust to dust”. Now in most versions of the Bible, the words “ashes to ashes” are never found. But we are told right in the beginning of Genesis that man was taken from the dust. Tonight’s verse tells us the facts. From Gen. 3:19, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” This happened after the fall in the Garden of Eden and even Solomon makes mention of our eventual physical fate in Ecclesiastes. My encouragement this evening is that while our bodies will return to dust, our souls will spent eternity in heaven with God. My prayer this evening is that you will do everything in your power to make sure as many other people enjoy the same eternity as you can possibly reach. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…