December 3, 2011
A Kentucky FuneralBy Fay Voshell
Glenn Roland Voshell was buried on a hill on his Kentucky farm last week.
"We can still do that here in Kentucky," his wife Gayle said.
And so my brother was laid to rest on the land he loved.
His Amish neighbors volunteered horses and wagons to carry him to his final destination. The horses chuffed and snorted as they plodded up the hill with their cargo of grandchildren, who momentarily had forgotten the reason for their ride up the hill. As all little ones do, they seized the moment, laughing with pure joy over an unexpected hayride.
We adults trudged in silence behind the wagon loaded with Glenn's body as a kindly sun warmed our shoulders, a soft breeze blew across our faces, and the vaulted blue sky looked down. The jingling of harness hardware and the soft thud of the horses' hooves were the only sounds. A hawk wheeled overhead.
The wagon came to a halt at the top of a hillock surrounded with rolling hills turned blue-gray by the late morning mist. A gaping wound had been dug into the side of the hill to receive the body. A mound of earth was heaped beside the gap.
The Amish neighbors stood slightly back, respectfully apart from the family, who stood immediately in front of the pine casket. The brethren were all dressed somberly in black, the men with white shirts, the women with carefully pinned blouses and snow-white bonnets. No one spoke.
"I want to be buried in a pine box," Glenn had said.
His son Jaret honored his dad's wishes, spending three full days constructing his father's casket. The wood was fresh with an unvarnished hue of light gold, the lid carved with a mansard curve, the rails for the pallbearers made smooth. It was a thing of beauty. A small crystal vase filled with white carnations was set on the coffin lid. The slight scent from the flowers drifted out, dissipating over the green hills.
The preacher spoke briefly of the Christian faith that had animated Glenn's life. He preached the hope of the resurrection, life everlasting. He spoke the gospel truth.
One by one, family members came forward and tossed a single flower on top of the lowered casket. The grandchildren clung to their parents and grandmother in uncomprehending grief, some not sure what was happening. One had wondered if her grandfather's heart was still beating. "Were they sure his heart stopped?" she said, as she asked to put her hand on his chest at the viewing. Now she knew his heart had truly worn out.
The mourners followed the wagons back to the house, where church folk and the brethren had lovingly prepared a meal for us mourners.
"I am hungry," my sister Nina said. "Isn't it just true that life for the rest of us goes on? We get hungry and we have to eat."
"I know," I said.
I sat across the table from the Amish neighbors and thanked them for helping, adding that I thought the burial was the simplest, most beautiful, and most deeply profound I'd ever seen. "That's all right," they said. "We wanted to help." They seemed a little embarrassed to be thanked with such flowery language. "Well," I said, trying to match their simple kindness with equally simple words, "Thank you."
"You are welcome," they said.
Nina, with her gift of connecting with people, found that the Amish woman sitting next to her had been one of eighteen children and had had eight of her own. When asked, the woman confessed that she had made all the pies for Thanksgiving, including the raisin cream pie we had wolfed down. And yes, the pie crusts were all homemade. She smiled shyly, her kindly blue eyes lighting up. She offered to give Nina her recipe.
I reflected on how miraculous this gathering was. Here was community -- family, neighbors, and church folk all bonded by love and Christian faith.
Here, gathered at my brother's funeral, was an America fast vanishing, often overlooked and sometimes openly despised. Here were works of the hands, works of the plow, and works of faith. Simple things. Profound things. Things of the heart. Things my brother loved.
Here, too, I thought, was the heart of our country. If it were to stop beating forever, the land would perish.
God, I prayed, don't let the heart stop beating.
Fay Voshell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Credits for the linked video tribute belong to Glenn's niece Elizabeth Jane Wilson and daughter Chrisalyn Voshell Lynes, artist and photographer.]
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