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Pallbearers honor the deceased, comfort family

Feb. 28, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

It was the look that tore at my soul. Stress lines from trying to hold back the tears formed at the creases of his eyes. I recognized the visage. Sadly, I had witnessed this numerous times before in our almost 24 years of marriage. Strength resolved, he braced himself and lifted with the other men with a full focus of care and tenderness.

Pallbearer, according to mwdictionary.com, is a person helping to carry a coffin at a funeral. Yet, to me, it is much more than that. While I have never personally had this privilege, my husband, John, has performed this task on numerous occasions. In fact, since we have been married, I cannot think of a single funeral within our family that we have attended in which he has not been a pallbearer. Years before I knew him, he was pallbearer for his own father -- a task that most certainly, had to be one of the most difficult.

No matter how many funerals in which John helps carry the deceased to the final resting place, I am always impressed with the poise he is able to possess while completing his task. He is quietly respectful; and, all the while, I can see the emotion clouding his eyes, tearing at his heart. Still, he never says "no" when asked. Frankly, I would not either.

After all, what greater final gift can a person give to a grieving family than to agree to gently carry their loved one to their earthly resting place? Though the person's soul leaves them upon death, their husk of humanity remains with us. Therefore, those left behind should treat the remains with the utmost dignity and respect. However, it is not an easy task.

Looking at the body of the deceased is a reminder on several levels. First of all, we are reminded of one more life no longer part of our own. Memories flood the living of all those words spoken and unspoken. An ache often wells up from within at the bitterness of our loss. Other times, the remembrance of laughter of happier moments breaks through the tears like the sun after a summer storm.

Ultimately, though, funerals remind us of our own short time in this world.

The first funeral I can recall attending was for my great Aunt Mandy. I was a teenager then. While I knew this aunt, I was not particularly close to her. Therefore, I did not feel a great sorrow for her passing. However, I was struck by the sadness that permeated several relatives. Driving from the funeral to the cemetery, I was struck by a realization that has remained with me at every funeral I have attended. That is the feeling of surrealness of the cemetery drive.

While in the funeral, everyone gathered within the room is focused on the loss of a loved one Grief pervades those gathered around the remaining body. However, once in that slow line of cars, driving like ants in a line to the cemetery, I am always reminded that life goes on. No matter how many loved ones are mourning and participating in this drive, all the other cars driving about or pulling over out of respect, are part of the living -- those unaffected by this particular loss.

I suppose for every change that happens, something doesn't change. Driving to the cemetery is the metaphor for this, as is being a pallbearer.

Just this past week, John once again carried that casket. Bob Cartmill, 93 years old, father of our sweet friend and co-worker, Rosalie Stone; and, grandfather to our dear friend, Sandy Mers, went to be with his Heavenly Father. Bob was our friend, too. He was a fellow fisherman, traveler and sports fan. Bottom line, he was a great man. Bob will be missed.

I watched as John, Dave (Sandy's husband), Rick (Sandy's cousin's husband) and a few funeral home employees carried Bob to the hearse. Next, we drove in that dreamlike drive from funeral to cemetery. Numerous cars stopped out of respect. Policemen saluted or stood with hand over their heart at intersections. Upon arrival, I once again watched with great admiration as the pallbearers respectfully performed their duty. I saw those familiar creases on the faces of all three men who knew Bob. Yet, those men did not break -- at least not while tenderly carrying Bob. It was only until the gun salute began and Taps was played -- that is when the tears were released. Yet, these were not tears of regret -- just tears at the loss of another fine man.

One day, and really no one knows when, John and I will need a pallbearer. Assuming there are those left to grieve, life will continue on -- despite and in spite of any lamenting that may occur. I only hope those left behind who remember us can feel the same way we did about Bob. And, if asked, I hope there will be others who believe, like John, it is a privilege of the living to carry our caskets.

May we all not only honor and remember the dead, but may we remember and honor the life we live now.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net.