Last week got off to a rather somber start. Monday morning my wife and I drove out to Beaumont to attend a funeral for the father of four old friends, Barbara, Larry, Tony and Bob. We met more than 40 years ago when we were members of the singing group ‘Shalom’ at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Irwindale. While with the group we had the opportunity to get to know their eight other siblings and parents as well. They were – scratch that, they are quite an amazing family. During our time with Shalom we got to know them well and shared some incredibly good times. I have many fond memories from that period of my life.
Sitting there in the church I began reliving some of those memories like the first time I met my friend’s father. It was in the parking lot of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. I was driving around the mostly empty lot one evening in my red VW playing Ricky Racer with Larry who was driving his Ford Fairlane. After several laps around the lot we finally came to a screeching halt in front of the CCD building.
I don’t remember why exactly but Larry’s dad was there that night and was standing outside the building when we climbed out of our cars laughing our heads off. He was not a happy camper. In a matter of moments he was all over Larry. I remember trying to slink away but that didn’t happen. I’d only made it a few steps away when he stopped me cold. He had a few choice words for me but Larry got the brunt of it. Yeah he ripped him a new one! He sure brought the wrath of God down on us that night! Believe it or not, after getting our butts chewed Larry introduced me to his dad and he shook my hand. A bit embarrassing, but that was our first meeting.
As I sat there listening to the singing I couldn’t help but be reminded of Shalom. Barbara and Tony from the old group made up part of the current singers as did other members of the family and they sounded incredible. It was Shalom the next generation. Later when I talked to Tony he told me that whenever he sings like that at church he feels like he’s 17 again. I knew exactly what he meant, for as I closed my eyes and listened I too found myself returning to the days of my youth, the Shalom years, good times, beautiful memories. At the reception I told Barbara that I wanted her to sing a particular beautiful song “Your Steadfast Love” at my funeral. We had a good laugh as we imagined what that might be like particularly if we are both graced by God with long lives. We decided on a recorded version, but I told her if she was still living I would hope she would at least come up and lip-sync the song that would add a nice touch to the proceedings.
I gotta tell you the service was beautiful and very moving. A particularly touching moment came near the end of the service when a poem written by his wife who passed away a few years earlier was read. The poem, about the plot of land she was given by God to care for and the garden she grew, was beautiful. Each of her 12 children is represented by a particular flower that she plants in her garden. As each flower was mentioned that son or daughter came forward with their spouse and their flower and laid it on the casket then remained standing near their father.
After the 12 flowers the poem talks about the seed spread from these flowers and how in time the entire plot is covered with magnificent flowers. With that the other members of the family, their children, spouses and children’s children, and great grand children came forward and joined the original 12. All brought up bouquets of flowers and laid them on the casket and remained standing. They then sang “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard, it sounded like a celestial choir, a most fitting tribute to the patriarch of this incredible family.
Like all families they’ve had their share of joy and happiness, sorrow and hardship, perhaps even more than most, because of their number, but in good times and in bad, their enduring faith and love of God has kept them united and seen them through. My wife and I treasure the moments we shared with them. They’ve always accepted us into their fold and we have always felt a real closeness to them. I felt touched when at the cemetery we were invited to attend the family reception because as Tony put it “I’ve always considered you family.” I tell you they always were and are still a true example of the Christian way of life.
During the entire service my eyes were continually drawn to a three word axiom the hung above a large crucifix at the front of the church. Three simple words that mean so much “God is Love.” How appropriate that the service was taking place beneath this banner, how appropriate for a family who live the way of the cross and are living proof that God is Love. I remember thinking how much I want to be love too. How much I want my family to be rich in love like the family before me. I want to make every effort to make that happen and with God’s help it will.
I pray that God’s love remains strong with the family in this hour of loss and assist them in carrying on in the Christian traditions instilled in them by their mother and father. Please keep them in your prayers.
“May the grace of the Lord be with all God’s people.”