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Thoughts at a Funeral

Love is Heaven on Earth

Saralee reflects on life and love after attending a funeral for her friend Bill's father. Pictured here is Saralee and Bill

“Love each other,” my friend, Bill, said to my husband and me last month at a reception after his father’s funeral. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Even though just a few moments prior, I watched him help take his dad’s coffin down the church aisle to the hearse, his smile was as radiant as always. He was looking around the reception room, where scores of people from near and far were catching up and sharing memories – and he seemed at peace.

I believe that Bill was feeling grateful for his community of kinship, whether related by blood or not, who were a part of his life.

Earlier, I felt a self-imposed separateness. Having never been to a Catholic Church, I had prejudiced ideas.

I visualized a dark cloud would be hovering over the congregation. I thought the priest, Father Mark Hession, would have a commanding booming voice, as he avowed the severity of life and all of its gloomy parts. I figured the topic of the sermon would be our sins and what on earth we should do to repent.

Yet as the celebration of Bill’s father’s life began, I unexpectedly opened my eyes and my heart. Father Mark was gentle, loving, comforting and as warm as the glorious spring day. He spoke about how separations such as race, religion, age or status shouldn’t matter. “We’re in this together. There is room for us all. We are all accepted and loved.”

In a recent e-mail response to me, Father Mark wrote about “our shared diversity” in the church that day. Since he knew I was Jewish, he added, “You will always be welcomed – and safe and respected – here.” He signed off: “Shalom, Mark.”

In Bill’s poignant eulogy, he said that his father openly displayed his love for his family. “It didn’t matter whether you were a relation by blood, marriage or adoption. All of his children and their spouses were treated the same.”

It all came together, with neither Bill nor the priest knowing ahead of time that they’d be sharing the same message – a message of love for others, no matter how they may be categorized. How important could a message possibly be?

We all joyously sang the words to a song I used to sing when I was a little girl attending synagogue.

Let there be peace on earth

And let it begin with me.

I was transformed to feeling united with every single person in that church.

With God as our father

Brothers all are we.

Let me walk with my brother

In perfect harmony.

On that beautiful day, I learned to treasure, even more, my friendship with those I’m blessed to know – especially Bill.

Bill shared an experience on Facebook that took place on the last night he and his father were together. “In the last few months, it was hard for my dad to say more than a single word, so I asked questions he could answer in milk, bathroom or bedroom. Before I left, I said, ‘I love you,’ and I paused and said, ‘I’m proud of you.’ My dad said, slowly, but quite distinctly, ‘I’m proud of you.’ Hearing those words at that moment was the greatest thing I could ever hope to hear.”

After reading that, I cried with sorrow.

Today, Bill’s words make me smile.

Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, welcomes e-mails at sperel@saraleeperel.com or via her website: www.saraleeperel.com.

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