I officiated at a graveside service today in a cemetery in Richmond. As difficult as they are, funerals are among the most meaningful acts of ministry in my experience. Today was no different. My heart breaks for the loss this family is experiencing, but I’m grateful for the sober pause we all made today considering what is truly important, truly valuable, truly beautiful in life.
In the midst of this deeply painful time, I found myself distracted several times by a decorative flag placed on another family’s plot nearby. People leave flowers or other memorabilia to celebrate their loved one. Often these items are very creative. But the distracting flag kept catching my eye due to its colorful, flowery background with songbirds and the bright word SPRING! Today is October 22. I kept noticing the flag and thinking “It’s not spring, it’s autumn.”
During this season of Covid, it’s entirely possible that someone placed that flag on a special family plot back in March and now they are not able to get out or to travel. It’s also possible that someone placed the flag in spring and then experienced a life-altering change (illness, death, loss of transportation, etc.) that means they will not return to update the decorative flag for the next season. I found myself wondering what could be happening in this other family. I began to pray for them.
And then a third option occurred to me: What if the family member who brings the flag/decorations has dementia and isn’t aware of what season it is? That’s possible. Perhaps someone else drives them and this person puts out their most bright and celebratory gifts to add cheer and beauty to a family member’s final resting place.
Options 1 and 2 (Covid restrictions or major life events that limit a person) are quite sad things to consider. Option 3, dementia, though sad in many ways, has a small, interesting hidden beauty. Our loved ones with dementia still offer us their gifts, their joy, their creativity, their love. No, they often don’t even know what season it is. They don’t know the year or the town where they are now living or the age of their nearest relatives. But many times they still know joy and find ways to share that joy with others.
In the time I spent in the cemetery today, that colorful “Spring” flag brought a transformation in my thinking. At first, I felt pity and compassion for whomever placed it there, presumably more than 6 months ago. But next, I felt gratitude, I felt like the recipient of a gift from someone who simply wanted to spread joy. I don’t expect to ever know the story behind that small “Spring” flag, but I will remember not to rush to assume the reasons behind other people’s actions. Sometimes dementia is the reason. But even then, sometimes there is beauty in the confusion. May we all find the beauty even amidst the loss and pain and confusion.