My father died in August of 1992. At the funeral, the only thing I noticed
as unusual was that the minister did it right. It was not a dirge, not an
announcement of a dreadful defeat by the Enemy, Death. It was a celebration
of life, a hard and sometimes heartbreaking life, lived gracefully and well.
The little country church was packed. My Aunt sang, my sister sang. For Dad who so dearly loved to fly, my brother read the wonderful poem High Flight. The whole family took part in song and hymn. I was the pianist, too occupied with the flow of the service to be aware of much else.
We left for the graveyard. Looking back from the front of the procession, the line of cars stretched as far as we could see. Cars not in the procession pulled over and stopped to wait as we passed. Was this a kindly midwest custom? Or did they know who was passing?
The casket at the graveside was covered with a spray of red roses. As the minister said his farewells, we the sons and daughters of an engineer, all sat (as we discovered later) pondering the lift mechanism and wondering a bit guiltily how it worked.
I do not remember the transition. I only recall that at some point I was looking at my father. Not a ghost, not a mask, but a glowing, golden glory. As if the container had been removed, and now the light, the soul, the personality, unconstrained and unlimited by the shell and husk had burst forth, free.
I had the impression that this humble, glorious soul was looking at the crowd, hearing the tears, with a bewildered gratified wonder. "Oh, my," he said again and again, "Oh, my. Oh , my!"
I was startled back into this world and this reality by the voice of the minister trying to get any of the family to come forward and accept a rose from the spray on the casket. When none of us did he turned to my mother in apparent confusion and frustration. "People DO do this," he said. "It IS done!" But Mother just smiled and shook her head. And I refused as well, immobilized by the incongruity -- to keep a dead rose as a relic of a dead father, when I had just seen him more alive, more real, than anything I had ever seen before.
Another disconnect came later when a family member stood with two photographs of my father, as high school graduate and as grown man, explaining how Dad would look in heaven. Which face he would have.
It isn't like that.
It isn't like a photograph or a mask or anything remotely physical. It isn't even immediately recognizable. It is as if made of light, where light has substance and form, and the person and the eyes are lit from within. Strange but then not strange. Alien to the eyes, shocking to the mind, and then warmly, wonderfully, joyfully familiar.
It is not possible to see this and then to ever see life-- or death -- the same way ever again. This knowledge, this vision is our Christian heritage. But for the most part, we who bear the name have lost the reality. We are the blind guardians of a shining truth.
I know very well that this experience is not proof, especially to anyone else, nor should it be. Experience is not transferable. Yes I believe that what I saw was real. I cannot prove that it was "real" in the physical sense. I can only prove that I myself believe what I saw. As proof of that, ask me about my father. Watch for the grief, the sense of loss, dread of the day when my turn comes.
You will not see it.
We talk of having "seen the light." But I have seen it, and nothing will ever be the same.