If it's Monday, it must be a funeral

This will be the first Monday in three weeks that we haven't gone to a funeral at my grandparents' old church.

Two weeks ago we went to a service for Chester Black, a man whose children had grown up with my mother and her siblings. His widow Ruby had left a message on the answering machine, so we went to show our support to her. Several generations sat on the front row while Chester's grandson preached a tear-punctuated homily and his granddaughter-in-law (with some help from other relatives) tried to keep infant twins and a toddler quiet enough that they could remain in the service as much as possible, slipping out and back in to the sparsely populated sanctuary as her son's attention span demanded. GrandDad found it somewhat distracting to have small children moving about on the edge of his field of vision, but their presence seemed to me to be a fitting acknowledgement of what Chester and Ruby clearly considered their greatest legacy: their children (including a son who had predeceased Chester by several decades), grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

Last week we went to a service for Rolland Rork, a 99-year-old widower who had no children of his own. A relative had noticed the obituary in the local paper and called to make sure we knew, so we went to pay our respects, and to contribute to what we supposed would be a rather small congregation of mourners. The obituary named two surviving siblings, but both lived thousands of miles away -- would they be able to attend? Who comes to mourn for a man with no children, whose wife has been gone for a decade, who has outlived most of his peers?

Rolland and his wife, Martha, had invited one of my aunts and another young woman from their church to accompany them on their annual summer trip to Belgium some forty years ago. Sharon and Marilyn were the oldest daughters of the two largest families in the congregation. Both families were comfortably middle-class, but with five and four younger siblings, respectively, each girl had certainly by then gotten used to a bit of scrimping and foregoing some of the opportunities that might have been available to their peers with greater means or smaller families. The Rorks invited them to travel with them as their own daughters, escorting them around Europe for a memorable six weeks.

Neither woman was able to attend the funeral -- both were busy with obligations to the next generation: Sharon caring for her newborn granddaughter; Marilyn, a teacher, unwilling to call in a substitute during the critical first week of class. I'm sure Rolland would have approved.

Again and again at the funeral I heard similar stories of how Rolland and Martha had invested in the lives of other peoples' children, from a summer job that gave rise to a lasting connection to a kind word outside a Sunday School classroom week after week. A niece whom I met in the receiving line (several were there, as well as Rolland's sister and brother-in-law from Georgia) described how the Rorks had been like second parents to her when she was growing up. The collected mourners indeed formed a meager group, but it was evident that Rolland's memory extended beyond that small assembly. He had no children who were biologically or legally his, but he was not therefore without a heritage and a legacy. It was deeply inspiring to me to hear the testimony of how this childless couple had participated in the parenting of several generations of the young people in their church. Rolland did not have a grandson to preach at his funeral, but his life produced an eloquent sermon nonetheless.


Lora Dawn said...

Oh my.

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