I have conducted services in our church sanctuary, other church buildings, various funeral home chapels, in a private home, in mausoleums, and simple graveside services in several cemeteries. Today was one of those graveside services.
Some funeral and memorial services had hundreds in attendance. Some, not so many.
The most unusual funeral service I have conducted was while pastor at my previous church in Kentucky. One of our members, an elderly lady, had previously told me of the deep sadness in her life after one of her three grown children had gone missing in 1950. Never a word from the missing daughter, no idea of where she might be, dead or alive. Then in 1999 word came to her son about a "Jane Doe" who had been found dead in South Carolina six months earlier. The county coroner had for some reason decided not to bury the body until efforts could be made to identify her.
The coroner combed through hundreds of FBI Missing Persons reports dating back for decades. Lo and behold, circumstances led the coroner to believe that this may have been the young lady from Kentucky who had been reported missing so long ago.
Dental records, finger prints, and a positive ID by her brother, brought the body home to Ashland to be interred in the family plot. The grieved 93 year old mother was able to finally get closure, and to view the body of her long lost child one last time, only 3 months before her own passing. The attendance at that funeral was very sparse. Less than 10 total family members attended. Small crowd, but all loving family members - some of whom had never met the deceased.
Today, at a cold (20 degree), snowy grave site in Wayne County, West Virginia, I conducted a service that I felt was under even more sad circumstances than that Kentucky funeral many years ago. Today I delivered the brief funeral message for mourners of a 90 year old widow lady who was being laid to rest beside the body of her long deceased husband.
Gathered at that grave plot were three mourners, the funeral director, and myself.
There was not a family member present even though her family name is one that is fairly well known in the area.
At the wishes of the deceased, the service was unannounced and private. An obituary notice will not be published in the local paper until later in the week. She died childless.
Although connected to a rather large family, there was apparently very little interaction between this lady and the in laws and nieces and nephews who lived in fairly close proximity. I understand that the last contact she had with any family was around Christmas time when a nephew and niece had visited her home.
I am totally unaware of all of the family dynamics involved in this situation. Furthermore, I am totally unequipped to make any judgments about it. Usually when there are cold relationships between family members, there is enough blame to go around.
What I will say is this. How sad to lay to rest someone who has been on this planet for 90 years, and so few people seem to have had any type of warm relationship with her.
Only God knows the whole situation surrounding today's service. But I was reminded anew that there are many lonely and perhaps forgotten people around us. Lennon and McCartney touched a chord when they wrote these words in their ballad, Eleanor Rigby:
"All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?
Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people
Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Perhaps there is an Eleanor Rigby in your family. Maybe there is one in your neighborhood. Perhaps even in your church.
I believe Jesus would seek out those who are lonely as well as those who labor and are heavy laden. As His followers, shouldn't we?