Death claimed three of us this past week. That’s too many for a town of less than 3,000 souls. All were of natural causes. Two the Bible would have called in the fullness of their years. And one was several years younger than me, as well as being young in heart and young in spirit.
Three different denominations were represented, strong evidence that death isn’t prejudiced one way or the other. Two were friends for many years. The other a friend in that I knew many of that family as they moved through the school system.
None of what I just said matters a tinker’s cuss in the face of that final life experience. Young or old, friend or foe, “good” or “bad,” it comes. You may have already noticed that.
What you may be wondering is why in the name of all that is good and holy — and all that isn’t — I’ve chosen this as a topic. This is supposed to be a light-hearted column.
I didn’t. It chose me.
In case you think I’m trying to get cute with words, all my column topics choose me — the good, the bad and the ugly. I let my mind go slack and in it comes. Some of you — and I bet I can identify a good many of you by name — are nodding your head and saying, “That’s what I suspected.”
I hate to disappoint those of you who think I work really hard at producing this stuff. You think Shakespeare was up all night trying to dream up “To be or not to be”? Or St. Paul writing, “The greatest of these is love?”
Of course that last one is Scripture and thus inspired. (Would you believe that in that last sentence, my computer program printed “fired” for inspired? This is to remind me that’s what I’m going to be if I don’t stop this foolishness at once. I’m stopping.)
I’ve lost both my parents in recent years. I know funerals aren’t funny things, especially when there’s tragedy involved, especially when there are children involved.
My first duty as an 18-year-old student minister was to bury a little boy who had drowned in a pond near his home the day before I got to my new church. I don’t remember a lot of laughter at that time.
But here’s something else you all know. Sometimes there is laughter and sometimes there is celebration.
Last week I listened to a good friend of mine, a young Pentecostal pastor, have the congregation in stitches when he began his sermon for his friend.
He made us feel so good that when he got to the meat of what he wanted to say, we listened carefully.
During the little “wakes” that inevitably follow these occasions, some of us got to discussing a topic that was really interesting, at least to me. The others may have been as bored as heck, which may explain why I seemed to be doing a lot of the talking.
You may think it’s boring, too, in which case I would strongly advise you not to read any further.
On the other hand, you might, if you stop reading, lose the opportunity to say, “You know, he’s absolutely right. I’ve noticed that myself. That Smith is one sharp cookie.” The last thing I want to do is deny you the opportunity to say that, as I know you will.
The topic under discussion was a comparison between funerals and weddings — how they’re different and how they’re alike.
Now, before you start with the smart-aleck comments such as, “One is being buried dead and the other buried alive.” and “one has the mourners now and the other takes a few years,” and all that, I want you to know I do not appreciate those tasteless statements.
But I have done some thinking about this and some research on the subject, as well. My observations lead me to believe that I am always correct much of the time. The research can only be done if you’re of sufficient distance from the bride and groom on the one hand and the corpse on the other. In short, you must be objective about this stuff.
At the beginning of each, everyone is rather stiffly formal, hardly knowing what to say and trying to figure out from facial features who’s related to whom and who the main characters are.
You don’t want to be offering your sympathy to somebody who’s the 47th cousin of the dearly departed and met him once in a bar on George Street. You’re looking for that fellow all right, but only as someone to safely stand next to and make small talk.
In the other situation, you don’t want to be congratulating the ex-wife or the current girlfriend. Both only lead to trouble.
When the name part of the affair has been dispensed with, everyone sort of lets their hair down for the wake or the party that follows the wedding itself. Wakes may be big enough to have in a large hall or small enough for a small living room. Wedding parties can be held anywhere from a larger room to small, separate rooms.
Whatever, two things are bound to happen. Uncle Jim and Great Aunt Gertrude start telling funny stories about the main character in each case. In one scenario that can be quite embarrassing, while in the other the main character usually doesn’t give a damn. There’s uproarious laughter and a great deal of back slapping.
In both instances, everyone makes the rounds of the relatives, exclaiming how great it was to see them.
“We really have to get together again, you know. We go far too long without ever seeing each other. Yes, we will certainly do that.”
When they’ve all cleared out, a very few are left to celebrate — or mourn — alone.
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale.
His email address is