Will Warnuu, Shaman (1981-present)
One day my telephone rang – it was the local undertaker asking me if I would officiate at a funeral for a guy I didn’t know. I immediately said, “Sure.”
I then asked why no one else in town would do it. He said he didn’t know, but affirmed that they wouldn’t.
i went down to the funeral home to meet the deceased’s family. I met a young woman and a young man. They were both dressed up, she in a dress, he in a suit.
They both struck me as being very conservative.
They profusely thanked me for agreeing to officiate at their dad’s funeral. I assured them it was my honor to do so.
The woman then told me that they had another brother, but he wouldn’t be present to talk about their Dad. The man agreed with his sister.
I then asked them to please tell me about their father.
The son said, “Dad retired from the US Air Force.”
I encouraged him to say more about his dad, and he said, “Dad was a very private man. I really can’t say anything else.”
I suggested they tell me something about growing up with Dad, about traveling as a family in the Air Force, about the several decades he lived after retiring from the Air Force.
The woman said, “Well, Dad retired from the Air Force over 30 years ago. He was a very private man, and there’s really nothing else to say.”
Despite the many ways I tried to get these two people to share something more about their Dad, they offered nothing, other than to repeat, “Dad retired from the Air Force and he lived a very private life.”
I was a young man at the time, in my early 20’s (much too young to be doing this sort of thing.) I told these two siblings that their Dad’s funeral would be somewhat stale and not at all personal if I didn’t have any thing personal to say about him.
I encouraged them to speak for their Dad; I asked if they knew anyone who would speak for their Dad. They told me that no one would speak for their Dad. I tried to emphasize how important this was, but my advice went unheeded.
I also asked them if there would be a grave side service. They said they had no interest in such a thing. I encouraged them to consider it. They assured me they had no interest in that.
I felt that I had let them down.
During our conversation, however, I learned that both of these siblings belonged to two different religious organizations in town. Often, in these type situations, it was not uncommon for the church of a child to host the funeral for a parent who wasn’t affiliated with a church in town.
While I wondered what was really going on, I realized that it really didn’t matter. My task was to provide comfort to the survivors; anything else was none of my business.
On the day of the funeral, I arrived at the chapel. As I parked my vehicle, I noted that half of the parking lot was filled with quite a variety of Harley Davidson motorcycles. Some of these were beautiful bikes, and I took a little tour of them before heading inside.
The other half consisted of Chevy’s and Buicks.
Inside the chapel, I immediately saw that in one half of the seats sat people dressed in Harley Davidson / Motorcycle outfits. Lots of leather, lots of fringe, lots of emblems on the backs of jackets, lots of boots.
Across the aisle, on the other side of the chapel, sat a bunch of people dressed in suits and dresses.
The motorcycle side was a bit raucous — there was lots of chatter.
The suit side was very quiet. Not even a murmur.
The service started. I said what I intended to say, then invited everyone to pray. As I concluded my prayer, I looked up to see the son I had met earlier coming down the aisle toward me, red faced. He looked very upset.
I thought that he was going to hit me. (Later, when I talked with the funeral home guys, they also said they thought he was going to hit me, and were preparing to launch themselves to help me.) In a fraction of a second, I determined that I could take one punch. After all, the man’s Dad was dead, he was upset, the least I could do was take a punch.
The man’s hand was raised, as if he was going to land a punch. I was steeling myself for the punch, when he threw his arms around me, his head resting on my shoulder. He was sobbing.
He cried for a bit, then pried himself from me, put his arm around me, looked at the people sitting in their chairs, and said, “When sister and I met with this young man a couple of days ago, he advised us to have someone speak for our Dad. But we told him no. He told us that the service would lack a certain meaning if nothing was said about Daddy. He was right.”
And then, this man gave one of the most beautiful eulogies I’ve ever heard.
But wait, there’s more.
At the conclusion of his eulogy, one of the motorcycle men — a bear of a man — stood up, arms outstretched, and walked to the man at the front of the chapel.
“Brother,” he said, “Will you forgive me? I’m so sorry.”
These two men — suit man and Harley Man — embraced, each asking the other for forgiveness. The sister joined them, and before you knew it, the whole of both sides of the aisle crossed over, with hugs all around.
Apparently there had been some strife between them all for many years.
After the funeral, the undertaker loaded the casket into the coach and they headed out to the cemetery. i asked if I could ride along, and they said sure. It seemed rather sad to me to just chunk him in the grave without anything else said for him.
The cemetery was waaaaaaay out in the country. Way out there. Off the highway onto a blacktop road, then onto a dirt road. The cemetery was scrub grass and red Georgia clay.
We drove to the grave. The funeral home guys placed the casket on the lowering device, then went back to the coach to sit in the air conditioning, leaving me to say whatever it is I wanted to say.
I silently said a few words, but my thoughts were interrupted by thunder in the distance.
I thought this odd, as I had heard nothing of rain. The skies were clear. It was just hotter than hell. Oh, please, let the rain come, I thought.
The thunder grew louder. And closer.
Right before they appeared, I guessed what I was going to see, and sure enough, it was so — a chain of motorcycles coming down the road, the Harley people driving, the suit and dress people hanging on for dear life.
They pulled right up to the grave, got off their bikes, and gathered round.
Once the dust settled, the Suit Brother walked up to me, shook my hand and said, “You were right about someone speaking for Daddy, so we figured you might be right about being at the grave.”
I had not prepared anything to say for an audience. I had just thought it a shame to send someone off without a few words on their behalf. Nevertheless, I just spoke from the cuff, and it was okay.
That is one of the happiest funerals I ever witnessed.
Interestingly, I wasn’t going to speak of this funeral when I started keying. I had planned on speaking of another one. I guess I’ll have to snoop around for a place to share it.