My friend Kevin’s funeral was held tonight. As much as I expected a terribly tragic evening, it was not.
I’m not saying it wasn’t sad. Of course it was.
I brought three hankies and they did not go to waste. This, however, was more than sadness. It was what a funeral should be – a celebration of Kevin’s life.
Kevin was, and Melanee and their families still are, devout Mormons. It’s a religion where lay people officiate at services. Before cancer, Kevin was the Bishop of his branch¹.
His faith was very much part of his life. I greatly respect Kevin’s devotion, even though he and I reached very different conclusions on faith and God. It was easy to see how it also shaped his out-of-church life.
I suspect faith serves his family well in this time when questions are many and answers few. There is reassurance when you believe a higher purpose awaits all of us, that heaven is a very real, and Kevin is waiting there for us.
Helaine, Stef and I drove to Cheshire and followed our friends Harold and Karen to the service in Waterbury. The building that now houses this congregation was once a Jewish synagogue. In fact, Harold’s brother was married right here.
As you might expect, there were lots of people attending the service. The sanctuary, normally divided in two by a movable wall, was opened to its full size.
Good people draw large crowds and few were as good as Kevin. The place was packed.
The service began and within a few minutes it was my turn to walk to the stage and eulogize Kevin. I speak in public a lot. Crowds don’t phase me. Still, this was very different.
I was a nice Jewish boy speaking in the Mormon’s place of worship. I didn’t want to inadvertently do something wrong.
Kevin’s eulogy, based on a web entry I made last week, went well. He was so nice, telling stories about his life couldn’t do anything but touch the congregation.
Then, I came to a part of my speech I hadn’t fully considered. Standing before this Mormon congregation, I looked at the paper and saw:
In March, at a poker table in Las Vegas, I sat next to a man who was a counselor at a hospice in Texas. We talked about Kevin and my fears for him.
“No one ever dies scared,” he said.
I pondered for a second… broadly turned to the church officers sitting behind me and excused myself for what was to come. I was going to say something that had never been said there before.
And then I read the line.
“In March, at a poker table in Las Vegas…” It got a very big laugh.
A laugh at a funeral is different than a laugh at a comedy club. This laugh said, “You are not offending us. Permission granted to continue.” And, I did.
It was an honor to be asked to give the eulogy. I sat down satisfied I had properly portrayed Kevin and our relationship.
Later, both his sister and sister-in-law also spoke. Their stories of Kevin’s life were priceless and brought new context to things I already knew from personal experience.
These weren’t sad speeches. In fact, both of them were very funny and delivered as if these two women were stand-up comics. There was lots of laughter from the crowd. How could you celebrate Kevin without celebrating his amazing spirit?
Can a funeral be perfect? This one was pretty close. There was the structured reverence organized religion brings and the genuine warmth people can only express when there’s real love involved.
Don’t you think I’d like to be able to pick up the phone and discuss this with Kevin right now? And, of course, that’s the tragedy in all this.
Here’s the good part. Nothing said tonight would have surprised Kevin. He knew that was how we felt. I take great satisfaction in knowing that.
¹ – I apologize for being a little vague, but I don’t know the full structure of the Mormon Church. I did some quick research, but was still left confused.
I think the regional grouping of congregations is a ward and the individual congregation is a branch.
I am avoiding the word church to describe the congregation Kevin attended, because I think (and, again, I don’t know) the word “church” is used in a different way by Mormons than, say, Catholics