It Was A Small Funeral, But The Most Beautiful I’ve Ever Seen


As funerals go, I have just returned from the most beautiful funeral I’ve ever seen.

It was held in the state where I grew up, and the day was absolute Wisconsin — cold, crisp and gray. But it wasn’t a biting cold, more of a serious, no-nonsense cold. The event was small — primarily the deceased’s wife and three children, the funeral director, the minister’s wife, the minister…

But let me talk for a moment about the minister. Evidently a bit of a rebel, he walked up as if he had just stepped from the pages of the Old West. He was wearing a three-quarters-length black coat, purple clergyman’s collar and one of those flat hats with the wide brim all the way around. If he hadn’t been booked for this funeral, he would’ve been equally at home on the streets of Tombstone, Arizona, standing over the unfortunate loser of the day’s gunfight.

Today, his eulogy was short, comprised primarily of words chosen by the man before he died — beginning with “For every time there is a season” and ending with “Goodbye.” The mother and children sat sadly, yet stoically and formally, because that’s what the man — a former U.S. Marine — would’ve wanted.

And the Marines were there — two of them — young men who were quite aware that the man they were laying to rest had spent years in the corps doing just what they were doing — but at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. and at the Marines Corps Institute there. They don’t choose just any old recruit for that duty, and these guys knew it.

Following the eulogy, the Marines marched to the side of the coffin, saluted it in slow motion and in perfect unison, and removed the flag from the coffin. When they folded it in that uniquely American triangular way, they knew that the entire family’s eyes were on them — making sure no red was showing when they were done. Because every child of every Marine knows that is the way our country’s flag must be folded.

The lead Marine then got down on one knee in front of the mother and presented her the flag “on behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation…” Then he added, “And this is from me,” offering his personal condolences to a grief-stricken family trying to keep their chins up and do their father proud.

Many people leave a funeral at this point. But, in this family, no one was leaving until the bitter end. They’d grown up together, and they were leaving together, even if that had to be one by one. Besides, the creaking of the mechanics required to lower the coffin into the ground was its own haunting version of “Taps.” You don’t move during Taps.

Just before it disappeared below the surface of the ground, one of the daughters broke with protocol and kneeled, kissed two fingers, touched them to the coffin and sent her precious father on his way. She couldn’t help it. She needed to do it.

I needed to do it. I love you, dad.