Four times in the summer of 2013, I had to take the last ride to the graveyard in the passenger seat of a hearse with a casket behind me. Four times I watched as families, husbands, wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, brothers and grandchildren cried and said goodbye in the South Texas heat.
Over the years, as I have officiated at the funerals of many Rio Grande Valley people, I have learned the protocol of the last ride to the graveyard. When the funeral ends, I stand at the head of the casket as the family members pay their respects. Then the casket is closed, the pallbearers put on white gloves and carry the casket out into the hot, Texas sun and load it into the waiting hearse. The funeral director then opens the front door of the hearse for me, and, once I climb in, usually hands me a coke to drink.
On one occasion, the funeral director handed me a Diet Coke. As I looked at the can with a confused look on my face, he said, “Sorry, Pastor; Your wife got to me on the way out here.” After another funeral, as the funeral director turned the ignition, Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” started blaring out of the car speakers. His face turned red, and he said, “Sorry; had the hearse washed today.”
Then, on our way to the graveyard, we usually chat together about family, sports and the weather. As the constables race up with their car lights flashing to block off each intersection, the hearse keeps rolling along, the little flags on the hood flapping in the breeze.
After the funeral of a close, family friend, I took a sip of coke, turned to the funeral director and said, “I’m sorry; the lady in the casket is a friend; I’m just going to cry if that’s all right.” And I cried all the way to the graveyard.
Sometimes the funeral director drives by the family home one last time on the way to the graveyard. But, eventually, the hearse pulls into one of the many quiet graveyards in South Texas.
I climb out of the hearse, put on my suit jacket, and quietly lead the pallbearers carrying the casket to the grave, where the family is waiting and sweating under a green tent. Sometimes the funeral director provides cups of water for the assembled family and friends, and, several times this summer, mosquito spray. This is where we read the promises of eternal life through Jesus from the Bible and say our final goodbyes. The hardest part is when the family members gather around the casket for the last time.
Four times in the summer of 2013, I took that last ride to the graveyard in the passenger seat of a hearse with a casket behind me. Four times I watched as families, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, daughters, sisters, brothers and grandchildren cried and said goodbye in the South Texas heat.
Do you know what I never heard in those moments? I never heard anyone say, “Man I wish he had spent more time at the office.” “I wish he had made more money.””I wish we had a bigger house or a nicer car.” Why? Because, in the end, those things don’t matter anymore. What we have, after that last ride, is love, memories of time spent together, and the hope of heaven.
You have moments to share now. You have love to give now. Please don’t waste it.