My First Funeral & I Performed It!
It was a warm summer day, a short time after the violent murder of my friend Margery. I was six years old. I walked out my front door, heading nowhere in particular – just out to play. As I stepped off our cement porch onto the lawn, my eyes focused on a small mound of feathers lying on the ground about fifteen feet beyond the front steps. I was puzzled. It appeared to be a bird, but I had never seen one asleep on the grass.
Walking slowly, I arrived at the small feathery pile, and leaned over cautiously. Lifting up what I now realized was a very still robin, I tried to rub it, and talk it back to life. Everything in me wanted that bird to shake itself off and fly free. I wished I could have been like Jesus in that story I heard in Sunday school, where he spoke to an entombed Lazarus, and brought him back to life. Holding the limp dead creature , I was overwhelmed with sadness. I knew I had to do something. I got an idea!
First, I went inside the basement and found an empty green shoebox and an old yellow towel. Then, from the garage, I took a shovel and dug a hole in the small, sloping yard beside my house. It seemed too important a moment to say goodbye to the robin all by myself, so I decided to find a group of mourners. I carried lawn chairs and boxes, and even pulled out the old wagon, in order to create several rows of seats near the makeshift grave. I placed the shoebox holding the stiff bird, beside the hole, and set out to find my friends.
I invited them to the funeral, but insisted that they needed to pay a penny to come. I was taught to put money in an offering plate when I went to church, so the required penny-for-admission seemed essential for our religious observation. Within a short time six or seven kids arrived at my house, handed me their coins, and sat solemnly in the pews. We reverently laid the little creature to rest, with me as the presiding minister. I said a very special prayer over the cardboard casket before it was put in the ground. There wasn’t much to the ritual, but there were many tears. We all cried and took turns putting handfuls of dirt back into the grave. We laid a bouquet of bright yellow dandelions over the dark fresh earth.
After observing and commemorating the death of this precious creature, my friends and I went to buy some candy with the funeral money, and to play a game of baseball.
The robin was my first physical experience of death. Dad had run over my dog, Jaggers, with a truck, but I had never seen the body. And my friend Margery had “gone away.” Now I had my first chance to observe and to feel death. As I held the body of the robin in my hand, I recognized that although the ‘’stuff’ that made it a living bird was gone, I was holding something that still looked like the robin. Questions filled my mind? What was lost? Where did it go? Why did it hurt so much to see this creature that once could fly now so still in my hand? I grieved for this creature.
The homemade funeral gave me a way to say goodbye to something that I loved – one of the precious birds that fascinated me. But I believe the little bird was also providing the chance for my friends and me to act out our own goodbye to our friend who had been so suddenly taken away a few weeks earlier. I had heard the screams of grief from her parents, and my mother had told me about funerals, but as a child, I had been permitted only to stand on the sidelines and watch the awful time pass by.
Now, I finally had the chance to grieve for all the things I had lost in my young life – the robin, my dog Jaggers, and particularly, my beloved friend Margery – and after that, in a child’s simple way, to reassert life, playing baseball with our friends, a game she had loved, too.
"Caged birds sing, wild birds fly...stay wild."