We are gathered here—friends and family—in this small chapel of the Veterans’ Cemetery in Winfield, Kansas. Limestone walls and vaulted cedar ceiling lend themselves well to a feeling of dignified calm. It is a glorious summer morning. Within this shade and with all doors open, a gentle breeze moves through the space. A long low ridge sheens its green in the sun and wind. Family members fill the chairs across the front while those of us who came either from knowing Del or caring about those who did sit in small clusters along the back rows.
Six flags held by six veterans and flanked by one other on each end are held at sharp angle. From just outside the chapel come the discordant sounds of rifles fired in salute. The reports echo from the walls and ridge and fade away. The long slow notes of a single bugle conclude the military salute. The honor guard officers remove the folded flag from the small table at the front of the chapel and present it to the wheel-chaired widow.
They file away in a single line exiting north and the preacher comes and speaks of faith and comfort. “Blessed Assurance” plays through the speakers. Pastor Steve reads the obituary and we listen to “The Old Rugged Cross.” He speaks of loss and the love of family, of quiet faith and the knowing of scripture. He also mentions orneriness and hobbies. As he talks about devotion and care, the widow nods. “Landslide” plays, a final song in tribute and comfort.
Most of those who knew Del or the family know of the long years of sickness and the agony of his last months. Some of us did not know of the stubborn devotion that kept him attending to Linda in between his own visits for dialysis. At least a few knew of the care that Chris and Jamie have shown, keeping his dad in their own home in between the multiple hospitalizations of his last year upon this earth.
Along the stacked rows of remembrance, Del’s ashes are committed to the vault and we walk back slowly, feeling the intense warmth of the sun. Back inside the shade of the chapel, each in turn offers those final words of sympathy and caring, hopes that God’s peace and presence will be with each.
I think that I would have liked to have better known someone whose funeral selection included a blend of fine old gospel songs and Stevie Nicks. I hope, too, that when my own children have grown old, they will gather round and share some good stories, alternate between tears and laughter. It is hard to imagine a finer legacy than love and devotion mingled with a quiet faith.
We must be the blessing we long to see in the lives of those we love.