Singing at a Funeral…

This morning on the way to Target the song I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me came on the radio.  Normally I immediately change the station, but today I put on my big girl panties and decided to listen to it.  See…I LOVE that song.  The problem is, I’ve sung it at a couple of funerals.  The last time I sang it publically was 5 years ago…on April 2, 2005…at my grandpa’s funeral.  Since that time, I can’t even listen to it.  I made it pretty far today – even singing along – almost through the entire song.  Then I fell apart and just listened to the rest.  I really meant every word of that song for my grandpa.  He was an incredible Christian man and an excellent example of love.  I knew he was dancing around on a street of gold.
Here is a picture of him with my brother Warren the Christmas before he died:
I’m so glad I took that picture.  He was living about a half mile away at an assisted living center called Chestnut Grove.  For those of you that have to make that decision in a loved ones life, we LOVED Chestnut Grove.  It was the best place in the world for my grandpa and my family.  We knew he was being well taken care of and we were able to come and go as we wanted/needed.  I had always loved my grandpa, but it was when he was living with us at home and when he was living at Chestnut Grove that we really got close.  I went over nearly every day to watch Oprie (Oprah) with him.
I’ve sung at other funerals.  Mostly for people I have been very close to.  I sang at Vess Hollenbeck’s funeral with the United Christian Church praise team.  I sang at Felix Hollenbeck’s funeral – the first time I sang I Can Only Imagine
People have asked me how on earth I can sing at funerals for people I’ve been so close to.  The secret is to have a little mental box (i.e. compartmentalize).  My mom taught me about it the first time I had to sing in a highly emotional setting.  She said, “Okay, now you’re going to take all your sadness and tears and pack them away in a little box and shove that box to the back of your head.  Then, you’re going to get up and sing.  After you sing, you can unpack that box and fall apart.”
There are other funerals, but two specifically stand out…
I sang at one of my dad’s friends’ funeral in August 2006.  His name was Jimmy Sadoski.  I had grown up just loving this man.  There are many, many stories to tell about him, but the fact that he had shared with my dad during a previous near-death experience that he wanted me to sing at his funeral just endeared me to him forever. 
One quick “Jimmy” story…when I was about 19, he was attending our church and two of our members got married.  They threw a real party that included a tent, dancing, kegs, and a fountain full of a Screwdriver.  Jimmy offered to get me some punch and about 3 glasses of punch later I was pretty sure my mom was going to kill him.  Oh, still funny today!
I have no clue what I sang at his funeral…it is not what stuck with me.  What has stuck with me is that our sanctuary at church was PACKED full of people who might not have been in church on a regular basis.  Some of the people who spoke about Jimmy were ex-cons (as he was), art students from VCU (where he got his art degree), and artists who had done shows with him.  I was last…I had to sing after all of those people talked about this man I adored.  So I packed up all that stuff I’d heard…I ignored the cries you could hear from all around the room…I went up front and sang.  When I finished, I walked off the stage, directly to the church office, sat on the floor and wept…sobbing so loudly people came to see if I was okay.
The other funeral that has had the deepest effect on me was the CELEBRATION OF LIFE service I planned and carried out last year for my friend, Amanda.  I didn’t shed a tear that day.  I sang twice and read the thoughts her husband Adrian had put on paper.  He was going to read them himself, but was unable to once standing in front of that crowd (literally the biggest crowd…standing in the hallways, some watching the service projected into another room of the church and others around the world watching online).  It is to this day the biggest thing I have ever been a part of.  And I didn’t shed a tear…all day.
I sang Amazing Grace in four part harmony with some other church members and I sang the song Remember Me by Mark Shultz.  That one gets me as badly as I Can Only Imagine, though I’ve not tried to sing it again.  My mom accompanied me on Remember Me and above our heads ran a slide show of Amanda and her then 3-year-old son Alastair.  I’m listening to it as I type and I’m now a wreck.  Bad move, Ev.
I actually just recently started to grieve Amanda.  I kept that little box packed up for a long time, but as Ella grows up and I have things I want to ask her and tell her, that box gets unpacked one thing at a time.  I heard the song playing along with a slideshow of photos recently at the funeral visitation of a friend’s mother.  My mom said, “Isn’t that the song…” I interrupted her with a quick “yes” and tried to get away from the music.  It is just hard for me to hear it because it makes me remember how sad I am that she’s not here.
I’ll admit here that I like singing at a funeral.  I am honored to part of someone’s final sendoff.  Yes, it is hard and oftentimes the song I sang becomes part of a painful memory…but it is also part of a great memory.  I’ve never sung at a funeral from someone who wasn’t a Christian.  That means that every time I’ve been part of saying goodbye to someone, I know that that person is not hurting, is not sad, is not lonely, but instead – they are partying it up with Jesus.  I thank God that I have been important enough to these people to be included in their final plans.
So why am I posting about this today?  Because I heard a song on the radio that triggered a memory.  Then, I realized the date…today is April 9, 2010.  We held a memorial for my grandpa at church sometime after his funeral in Collinsville.  I don’t remember the exact date, but I know it was close to now.  So it has just been on my mind today.  I’m not sure when/if I’ll sing at another funeral.  If I do, I hope it is no time soon. 
My message to you today – love your loved ones and tell them you love them before you’re sitting at their funeral wondering how the person singing is holding it together…
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