I returned yesterday from a trip to my old hometown of Long Beach, CA. It was a nice trip, but the reason for it was sad: my grandfather's funeral.
When I heard that my grandpa Red had died, I was instantly transported back to January 2005, almost four years ago to the day, when my Grandma Betty (Grandpa Red's wife) passed away. I was there, along with many of her other family members, in the hospital room watching death ravage her body with each passing breath. People will speak to you about the peace of death, how it is simply a part of life and all that loveliness, but I tell you it is BULL. God created this world perfect, but because of SIN, there is DEATH. It is NOT natural, pretty, comforting, or any of these things. Watching my grandmother die did have a mystical element though, as I spoke to her not knowing if she could hear or understand, clutching her hand and reassuring her that we would miss her but that she was free to go. My grandma Betty loved Jesus and I know that I will be with her again when we all gain new bodies and get to be with God forever. That was the only hope or joy that there was in her death.
Fast-forward to four years later, nearly to the day, and my Grandpa, Sergeant Major Wilbur "Red" Jones left this Earth as well. I was summoned to Long Beach to say my farewells, and be with and be comforted by my family. Many of you know how my mother and my step-dad Kevin are no longer together, and might think that going to a family reunion (of sorts) with a family that is "technically" no longer mine would be a little awkward. But you would be wrong. The Jones/Klein family IS my family, and they welcomed me like family, and I read scripture at my Grandpa's funeral like family and we all took a shot a whiskey together like family (perhaps YOUR family doesn't do that at funerals...) to honor my grandfather's memory. It was a great day.
The Marines that were there to honor one of their own were a part of the ceremony that I will not soon forget. Not only were there two men left from his company, old men now with haircuts not unlike my grandfather's which never changed over the years, but there were young men there, too. These young Marines may have never met my Grandpa, but all they needed to know was that he was a veteran of three wars (WWII, Vietnam and the Korean Conflict) with the Marine Corps, a Sergeant Major, that he was a decorated hero and that he had done a great service to our country. His memory was honored with their presence, their respect, their gun salute, and a folded American flag enshrining the bullet casings from that salute. My dad Kevin was the one to receive this flag in my Uncle Dan's stead. It was a wonderful moment, and very soon after Kevin clutched my sister and I and told us, "My mom and dad are dead. You guys are more important than ever to me now." And indeed, the less of us that there are, the more important our remaining family becomes to us.
So although I met my grandma and grandpa Jones when I was probably about ten years old, and got to spend only half of my life with them, I miss them dearly. I wore a necklace that was a gift from my grandmother to both her and my Grandpa's funerals, and I carry their little cards from the Catholic funerals around with me in my wallet, to read the prayers on the back and remember them fondly by.
I will end with the scripture that I was privileged (and surprised, thanks Kev!) to read at this most recent funeral. I choked up because I always cry when things are happy, and I think that this is a comforting passage:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.