I officiated a funeral this week. It was for an older gentleman, the patriarch of one of the church's large families. He'd been dealing with Alzheimer's for the past seven years, longer than I've been at the church. As a result, I've been wondering what he was like before the illness started creeping in.
The family shared plenty of stories during the service that helped paint a picture of who he was. And I do have my own memories of him, of course. When his wife would bring him to worship, he'd make it a point to thrust out his hand to me in silly, dramatic fashion, a huge grin on his face. The thing was, he'd only do it if I had my robe on...he didn't recognize me otherwise. This was a fun moment that the two of us were able to share for as long as he was able to attend.
The family and I went through our preparations for the service: choosing hymns and scriptures, sharing memories, figuring out extra elements that they'd want. All five of his daughters wanted to write something to be shared; my custom is to read something on their behalf if they don't feel up to doing it themselves. A few of them didn't have theirs prepared, but they'd make it a point to have them ready the next evening during calling hours.
It was a long line. People who knew him blended in with people wanting to show support for someone in the family they knew. It didn't matter who was who. After greeting the family, I made my way to the displays of pictures somebody had compiled to help remember him. Eventually, my eyes came to a picture of the two of us shaking hands in the narthex after a wedding, he with that soft look of recognition, and I in my robe, smiling back.
Of all the pictures that the family could have chosen from 78 years of life, somebody wanted to include that one.
That's the kind of thing that happens when you pastor the same church for so long.