Today, I was the pallbearer for a woman whom I’d never met.
A few months ago there was a freak accident at one of my client’s offices. An older woman who had recently started working there was entering into the side door of the building. To do so, she had to take about four steps. What happened next is somewhat of a mystery. It was windy that day and some say as she reached for the door, the wind caught it and knocked her backwards. Some say she may have passed out. At any rate, she fell backwards off the concrete steps and did not make an attempt to catch her fall. Her head took the full impact on the curb of the parking lot.
She was rushed to the hospital in an unconscious state and soon she entered a coma. As my client sought to find relatives or friends a strange truth about her came to light. She had no relatives and the closest friend she had was an ex-coworker that she only knew from work. Her neighbors did not know her. She only had 3 contacts in her cell-phone and 1 of those was her cats’ veterinarian. Just as the State was about to turn her life support off, she regained consciousness… kinda. She was awake, but not responsive to any stimulus. I kept up with her progress in hopes of a recovery, but none came. She died this week, alone, at age 62.
Knowing she had no one to mourn her, I felt compelled to go to her funeral. It was a small ceremony in the funeral home’s chapel. About 25 people were in attendance, all of whom simply had worked with her in the past. One of her past co-workers, when aware of the accident became interested in helping to care for her. This co-worker’s dedication was impressive, but even she only really knew her as a comatose patient. The preacher read a handful of standard verses, said a little prayer and opened up the floor. Reluctantly a few people mentioned their fondest memories of this woman, most of which took place in the hallways of work, but nothing of much substance.
My heart hurt for the dead air in the room. No memories of laughter. No recollections of fun times. No mentions of accomplishment. No legacy. Just a small casket in a small chapel filled with people she barely knew, some she never knew, and only very few tears. How do you walk for over 60 years on this Earth without leaving prints in the snow or ripples in the pond? As we were making our way past the casket, the director gently grabbed my arm and asked, “Could I get you to help with the casket?” You see I was one of only five men in attendance. Most funerals I’ve been to have had six or more pallbearers and many times, honorary pallbearers just so no loved one gets any hurt feelings. And here I was, a man who had never met this woman, being asked to bear her body to it’s final resting place. It was surreal.
Interesting that Matthew Joiner recently posted on Facebook a recommendation for the classic Akira Kurosawa film, Ikiru. Ikiru means, “to live” in Japanese. In this film, an older bureaucrat discovers he only has six months to live and that he had accomplished nothing in his life and in essence had not lived. His nick name at work was “the Mummy”. After a short time of discovery, he ends up spending his remaining time dedicated to building a park in a slum for the poor people there. Half of the movie is spent at his funeral where even his staunch uncaring coworkers learn of his devotion. He died loved because he learned to live for others in the last six months of his life, even after wasting the past 30 years doing nothing. I thought about this movie today as I carried a casket through a lonely gravesite with even fewer attendees than the service had. I thought, “if only she had known what this day would be like, maybe she would have done more and lived more.”
The thing haunting me is that I had a promise to God, that if she regained her senses I would make sure she knew about Him, His son and His love. Part of me hurts even more for her today, because even though I carried her body to the grave, I never carried the Gospel to her. There’s a part of me groaning that I should have gone to the hospice home and spoke to her even if she was unresponsive. I cannot know her situation with God, I can only pray. So as her casket was lowering further and further, my prayers were going up.
The lesson is to live. Ikiru. Live for your family and friends, but most of all live for God. The more of yourself you give, the greater your impact will be on this Earth. The more you love others, the more this world will be a better place for you having been here. Then one day as your body is carried, it will be by those who feel a hole in their lives where you were. They will be inspired to pass on a legacy that you have laid before them. Then because of your example, they will live as well.