HOLEY, HOLEY, HOLEY
The following article written by Richard Myers was published in the Winter 1980 issue of The Updater and was reprinted here with their permission.
As the golden rays of the warm, summer morning sun radiated brilliantly through the rainbow colors in the stained glass windows of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, the funeral mass for little Johnny Simpson was just beginning, when three little boys in worn and tattered clothing, self-consciously entered the rear entrance of the massive church chapel.
As they rather hesitantly looked around wondering just what to do and where to go, one of the boys pointed to a partially empty pew just in front of me on the next to last row in the chapel. Quietly and with much reverence, the three boys crept to their seats in the crowded church.
Like three immobile statues they sat, intently observing the funeral mass for their friend. Then as the time came for those in the congregation to kneel during the mass, the three little boys lowered themselves to the kneeler in front of their pew and bowed their heads in respect. As they did so, I happened to look down at their feet protruding from beneath the pew ahead of me. One little boy had on a pair of ragged tennis shoes that were rent with holes and were worn beyond belief. The second little boy was wearing a gigantic pair of tattered cowboy boots which were so large for his feet that a rope was tied around the top of each boot in an effort to keep them on his feet. The shoes of the third boy were so worn that I could see generous portions of his feet protruding through the cardboard that had been stuffed in the bottoms of his shoes to cover the large holes in the soles of the shoes. Indeed, it almost seemed to me that more foot than sole was exposed on the bottom of the old shoes.
Holey, Holey, Holey... Three pairs of holey and tattered shoes which in a humble fashion covered the feet of the three grieving and reverent young boys. It really didn’t matter to them that they weren’t in their Sunday best, if they had such a thing. Their concern was for their cherished friend whose body occupied the pall-draped casket in the front of the church.
The lines of grief were etched deeply on their youthful faces as they attentively participated in the funeral mass. So moved were they by the funeral for their friend, that they remained thoughtfully silent and meaningfully reverent throughout the lengthy mass. Seldom have I ever seen children so visibly moved by death.
As the time came for the congregation to rise from their kneelers and be seated, I looked once again with intent fascination at the three pensive boys in front of me. Even though their clothes were tattered and worn from the rigors of summer play, each boy was impeccably clean with a fresh scrubbed look that only comes t6 rowdy boys with great effort. Their hair was combed and carefully parted and the "just washed look" on their faces was moving evidence of a long encounter with a wash cloth, soap, and water.
Their cleanliness, concern, and reverence was so striking and ethereal that it left a lasting impression on me that I have never forgotten. I was visibly impressed and reminded once again that the fine trappings of elaborate clothing and look of importance are muted at the time of death; where grief humbles us all as we confront the finality of death. How often, I thought as I gazed at these boys, do children in their innocence and concern give us fine examples of the pure emotions of love and caring that are not tarnished with the jaundiced facade with which many adults adorn themselves.
Suddenly my reverie and observation of the three little boys was broken as the priest came down from the church altar to the center aisle where Johnny’s pall draped casket stood. It was a signal that the mass was near conclusion, alerting me that I must make my way, with other funeral directors on our staff, to the front of the church to prepare the family and congregation to leave the church.
As the mass concluded and I made my way back up the center aisle, helping Johnny’s bereaved family, I looked once more for the three little boys sitting in the back of the church. They were gone.
The next few minutes were busy ones for me as I walked with Johnny’s family to the limousine and helped them to be seated; then supervised the preparation for other members of the family to get to their cars to leave for the cemetery.
With this and the other arrangements to leave completed, I made my way back through the crowd toward the church hoping to find the three little boys to see if they would like to ride to the cemetery for the graveside service. They were nowhere to be found.
When all was in readiness, the funeral cortege departed from the church and slowly made its way down the street toward the city cemetery were the interment was to take place. There on the corner, a block away from the church, stood Johnny’s three little friends, solemnly watching the cortege making its way towards them. As the funeral coach approached, the three little boys bowed their heads and almost in unison placed their hands over their hearts as their friend passed before them for the last time.
I’ve never seen the three little boys since that memorable occasion, but even to this day I can remember that painfully moving scene of the three tearful friends standing sadly by the side of the street with their hands held over their hearts in one last tribute to Johnny.
Those moving moments in the presence of three tattered little boys have provided me with a touching insight into the needs of children in mourning as I, for the first time in my life, fully realized the depth of their despair, concern, and grief.
Holy, Holy, Holy. . . Holey, Holey, Holey. . . three holey pairs of shoes that taught me one of the most valuable and cherished lessons in my life as a funeral director.
Waller Funeral Home staff includes (left to right) Bobby Phelps, Beth Rosson, Bob Rosson, Robbie Ash, and Sid Wolfe.
COMMITMENT AND COMPASSION
Performing as a professional while providing funeral services when all emotions, including your own, are at a peak can be quite difficult. Even when we have not personally known the deceased, how easy it is to put ourselves in the place of the loved ones and be affected by the grief they are feeling.
Yet we take our responsibility very seriously; and, because those we deal with are operating in a stressful situation, it is even more important that we maintain our mental and physical poise to make sure we are carrying out our duties and assisting our clients effectively during the arrangements time and casket selection and as we proceed to carry out the instructions of the family in contacting the pallbearers, placing obituary notices, locating gravesites, confirming our understanding of plans with ministers and musicians, receiving and placing floral arrangements, arranging escorts, and performing other tasks rela-tive to funeral services.
From time to time through the years someone has commented to me, "How do you do this?" By their very question they were recognizing the difficulty of being confronted with hurt and suffering constantly. My answer has been, "Very often we simply must draw a blind separating ourselves from the reality of the anguish of those who have entrusted to us the task of carrying out their directions." At the same time we recognize that we must remove ourselves to some extent, we recognize that we must never be so far away that we cannot be touched.
My strength also seemed to come from my strong feeling that this was the work I was meant to do. From the very first, when I touched the hand of the deceased mother of the very first family we served in helping to arrange the ribbons on the lovely robe the family had brought, I felt that I was carrying out God’s will for my life. Perhaps this feeling of fulfilling my purpose in life is the reason I feel the need still to stay informed about day-to-day activities at the funeral home. Because I am no longer physically able to serve there and because I want to be with Don in his work, I have accepted this change.
As Beth and I talk about the role of the funeral director, she has shared her feelings with me, and her heart is right. Recently she told me of two incidents relative to this discussion. On one occasion while she was with the member of a family who had experienced a death, the gentleman asked her how the staff could conduct and carry on so professionally, seemingly so unmoved, when all around them others were in agony. He seemed to feel the staff was completely untouched by the grief as they worked through the details of getting and carrying out the instructions of the family concerning the funeral services. On another recent occasion, Beth said a family member commented to her that he saw her tears during the family’s first visit. He then realized she was human and not all business.
In both of the above situations, neither of these comments were entirely unexpected or surprising — and neither could be considered as totally complimentary or derogatory. The comments did cause us to think again how the public views the funeral director and made us aware once again that while we must remain professional in order to do our tasks, we must still allow our compassion and sympathy to show through. Many times we have all shed tears in private for the sorrow we see around us.
We do indeed walk a fine line between being involved and avoiding being involved in the emotionalism of funeral services. As we put ourselves in your place, we ask that you "walk in our shoes" as together we honor those whom we have loved and lost.
It is wonderful what God can do with a broken heart if he has all the pieces.
— George Mueller
We dedicate this issue of Seasons to those who have died and whose families we have served from February 27, 1992, to May 31, 1992.
Mr. Bennie Lester Sanders 2/27/92
Mrs. Grace Lucille Pierce 2/27/92
Mr. Robert Alton Home 3/1/92
Mrs. Lilla France Butler 3/3/92
Mrs. Stella Inez Stewart 3/5/92
Mrs. Myrtle Brummett Allen 3/8/92
Miss Veronica Evelyn Evans 3/9/92
Mr. Edwin Clinard LeGrand, Jr. 3/16/92
Mr. Pleas Franklin Goolsby, Jr. 3/17/92
Mr. Hargis Edward Redding 3/19/92
Mr. Bennie A. Morgan, Sr. 3/19/92
Mrs. Ruth Nunn Smith 3/24/92
Mr. Thomas Albert Hurdle 3/2/92
Mr. James Braxton Howell, Jr. 3/7/92
Mr. J. 0. "Jodie" Walker 3/31/92
Mrs. Jolene Davis Graham 4/1/92
Mr. James Edwin Harwell 4/1/92
Mrs. Ada Belle Rees 4/3/92
Mr. Charles Wesley Phillips 4/3/92
Pattie Genell Mercer 4/6/92
Mr. Herman Alfred Livingston 4/6/92
Mr. James Henry Joyner 4/10/92
Mr. Timothy Lee Vaughn 4/10/92
Mrs. Debra Jenkins Vaughn 4/10/92
Mrs. Alta Ray Keys 4/10/92
Mrs. Rhoda Cathrine Sockwell 4/14/92
Mrs. Fannie Lou Ratliff 4/14/92
Mr. Loy J. P. Williams 4/17/92
Mr. Stafford Coleman Happ 4/18/92
Mr. Lester Soule "Boots’ McElroy 4/21/92
Mr. Ira Edward Tatum 4/21/92
Mrs. Edith Jarrett Keel 4/24/92
Mr. Kanendran Intharajah 4/22/92
Mrs. Audrey Faye Joslin 4/25/92
Todd Inmon 4/26/92
Mrs. Agnes Lee Wilder 4/27/92
Mrs. Dalma Lee Gardner 4/28/92
Mrs. Dealie Mae Berryhill 5/1/92
Mrs. Sigal Bernice Ivey 5/4/92
Mr. Samuel Fred Ragland 5/7/92
Mr. Thomas Benjamin Peaster, Sr. 5/15/92
Dr. Charles Dale Cannon 5/20/92
Mr. U. T. Pierce 5/23/92
Mr. C. M. ‘Tad" Smith, Sr. 5/27/92
Somebody I Love Has Died
Somebody I love has died; they won’t ever laugh, shout, joke, cry, kiss, cuddle, tease, torment, tell me off again.
There’s an empty place at the table, an empty space in my heart. It’s tough, Lord, but then... you know. Somebody you loved died, too.
— Wendy Green