Kathleen Hastings Whitlock
January 23, 1947
* CAL’S COLUMN *
As a country minister, it has fallen to our lot to conduct many, many funerals during the past 30 years or more. We have kept a record of these funerals and have held more than 2,000 such services. It is needless to say that funerals are perhaps the most depressing part of the work of a minister. In the early years of our ministry, we “took our dead folks home” with us, meaning that after we left the scene of the services and went home we still had before our minds, the sadness, the sorrow, and the heartaches so clearly portrayed by the bereaved. We had to leave this off, for it was too depressing, too sad and added unnecessary burden to the country minister. For all our worries, there was no good done whatever, no relieving of those who had lost their loved ones. So, like the physician, we had to remove from our minds the scenes of sorrow, weeping, lamentation and other features of the average funeral service. We do not mean to convey the idea that we are lacking in sympathy for the sorrowing relatives. But how long would a physician last who had to keep the plight and needs of all his patients constantly before his mental vision? We are sure that he would not be able to carry on for more than a few months at most.
We have made some blunders at funerals which still almost make us shudder. Lack of information as to the dead, the survivors and many other facts that the minister should have, has been the cause of most of these errors. Then sometimes the information we have concerning the dead is such that there is virtually nothing good that can be said of the departed, and we say this kindly. In such cases we have tried to help as best we can those who still live by pointing out the blessings of doing right and the afflictions that come to those who transgress the just laws of God and of man. Now and then we are placed in about the same position of the lawyer who wanted light. An old lawyer was instructing a young attorney in the proper way to plead his cause at the bar of justice. The old man said: “Son, if the evidence is against your client, than say but little about the evidence, but be strong on the law. If the law is against the party you represent, then say but little about the law, but be strong on the evidence.” The young lawyer then asked, “And what must I do when the law and evidence are both against my client?” The old man’s reply was, “Son, just talk around.” Well, many a minister has had to do after this order in funeral services.
We mentioned making blunders. Yes, ye editor has made “scads” of them and part of them were at funeral services. One of the early ones took place at a funeral in Smith County about 30 years ago. The editor was at that time a rural carrier and arrived a little late for the funeral service. He asked for an obituary and was handed one by a man who said, this is the first one I have ever written.” We wish him no harm; but if he never writes another, we will not be grieved. The obituary said not a word about the survivors, we asked if the dead man had left any relatives and were told that he had left certain ones whose names were added to the incomplete obituary. We had been in the home of the deceased once before. We could not recall having met the wife of the departed. When we asked specifically as to what survivors he had left, and had been given their names, there was no wife mentioned at all by our amateur obituary writer. This confirmed us in our previous idea that the aged man’s wife was dead. So on this false premise, we proceeded toward the close of the discourse to talk of the old ma’s last days, of their sadness and loneliness, of his having been bereft of the wife of his youth and how that at last, with his more than four score years well filled with good deeds and righteous living, he had bidden goodbye to the world and had gone to join the wife who had been rudely torn form his embrace by the icy hand of death, and of what must have been their joy in that great reunion on the other side; when, with the last battle fought and the final victory won by each, they came together to part no more and to be together in the land that lies beyond the river. Confidentially, we thought we had done pretty well as we brought the service to a close. But, alas, our joy was but for a moment as the Bible says of the hypocrite’s hope. One of the neighbors who heard the reading of the obituary and had no9t opened his mouth; who stood near us and heard all we said and “let us blow our head off” without a word of warning or protest, then spoke up and said “Brother Gregory, you are mistaken. Sister _____ is sitting yonder at the other end of the casket.” If we had been hit in the middle of the head with a mallet, we would not have been hurt any worse, we feel sure. We apologized publicly and privately and then had a real, good cry about the blunder we had made. It would not have hurt so much if some of the older preachers had not accused us of holding people’s funerals before they died. But we learned one good lesson by reason of this blunder. We have since made diligent inquiry as to the surviving members of the family of the deceased and have for the most part written the obituaries.
Sometimes we find something quite humorous even at funerals. Now and then there are happenings at funerals which make one wish to laugh aloud. One of these took place on Peyton’s Creek in the years gone by. A farmer had lost his wife and at eh funeral service, he was lamenting his loss in tones loud enough for the entire crowd to hear. After speaking of the good qualities of his departed companion in life, he began to speak of his own heavy loss, finally saying, “I had rather lost my best mule.”
One of our preacher friends in the years gone by held a funeral in the south side of Smith County. He was quite able in funeral services and had extolled the many virtues of the departed brother, who was held in high esteem by a large circle of friends. One can very well imagine the feelings of that preacher who had highly commended Brother _____, when the widow came to the casket to bid farewell to her companion in life and said in a voice loud enough to carry to the entire congregation: “Well, he’s caused me a lot of trouble, but the old devil will never bother me any more.”
Another out-of-the-ordinary happening at a funeral took place in an adjoining county some years ago when the bereaved husband loudly lamenting his loss and bereavement, said: “I have heard men say it was bad to lose a wife, but I never thought it would be like this. I have never been so hard hit before, I would not have had this to happen to me for $50.00.”
Then there is the old, old tale of the preacher who was holding the funeral of a man who had never done much good, who had been a poor provider, who had neglected his family in many ways and whose life was hardly a fit pattern to be followed in any respect. As the preacher extolled the many virtues of the departed and spoke so highly of the “good brother,” the widow could not believe all she was hearing. So she said to one of her sons, “Johnnie, step up there to the casket and see if that is your pa.”
Then there is another as “old as the hills,” which runs like this: The minister had just held the funeral of an aged woman, whose son-in-law was crying as if his heart would break. The minister, striving to comfort him, spoke of the aged woman’s toils as being over, of her having found rest and other things he thought ought to console the weeping son-in-law, who blurted out, “Preacher, I’m not crying because she is dead, I thought I saw her move.”
Here in our own Macon County some years ago, a husband who had been “henpecked” all his married life, who had borne his wife’s taunts, and jeers, her fussing and quarreling, complaining and fault finding with a lot of patience, left the cemetery after the burial of his good (?) wife, singing “O Happy Day.”