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Nothing Left to Do at the Cemetery

September 8, 2018

“This concludes the service. You may return to your cars.”

I’ve heard words to that effect for over forty years. Someone from the funeral home makes an announcement like that after the Benediction at a graveside service.

People shift awkwardly, side-eye one another, and usually wait for the deceased’s family to make the first move.

Sometimes I go over to where the pall bearers are standing, start shaking hands and thanking them for helping.

Sometimes a family member and I make eye contact, nod at one another, and start moving towards one another.

Sometimes it’s appropriate to simply work the font row of chairs, shaking hands and promising prayers.

Sometimes, no matter what is said or done, many people remain rooted to the spot, looking at the casket but not seeing it, or simply staring off into the horizon.

Sometimes, nothing like any of that happens. Real life in all its permutations is nothing if not surprising, and usually in a good way.

So it was that I was in a cemetery talking with someone about their about tattoos. On the inside of a forearm, taking two lines, were words I recognized but couldn’t place—

                                  Nothing left to do but

       smile, smile, smile 

—  So without thinking, I blurted out, “Hey, I know that line! What’s that from?”

Suddenly I panicked. What if my recognition had revealed something better left unsaid?!

“It’s from a Grateful Dead song,” came the reply.

And we were off and running. We compared notes on the band, their history, recent tours by various remnants, and I even recommended one of their percussionist Mickey Hart’s books.

That line has stuck with me: Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.

Tell the good stories of life with your friend or family member who’s no longer with us.

Get out the pictures and the other stuff and tell the stories.

Laugh.

Cry.

Remember. Relive.

Feel free to both cry and laugh some more.

It’s all part of being people who grieve.

And yet: Regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. You must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus. (1st Thessalonians 4:13,14)

Or, as part of that has more traditionally been rendered, Do not grieve as those who have no hope.

There comes a time when there really is Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.

And be thankful.

 

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