Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thoughts After A Firefighter's Funeral

The fire truck bearing Mr. Glaser's coffin led a procession of over 100 emergency vehicles (Observer photo)

Rev. Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of the UM Church of the Resurrection, officiates at the funeral of Shawnee FF John Glaser. (Kansas City Star photo)

I was blessed to have the opportunity to attend the funeral of John Glaser today. My thoughts are all in a jumble afterwards. Funerals are funny things. Of course, they are very sad, as they are the point when it really comes home that the person is dead. In the course of remembering, though, and in the course of supporting one another, you find yourself smiling, maybe even laughing. People you don't see every day, but value come across your path, and you enjoy the interaction. Dear friends are there for you. Funny stories get told, and funny pictures come to light--they make you smile and nod in remembrance and reflection. The smile feels a little awkward though, as not everyone is smiling, and underneath, in the heart of your heart, you know that the person is gone from your life, and that dampens the smile a little.

I remember I went to a funeral for a friend named Ron. It was held in a small church in Johnson, VT. Looking out the windows, you could see the mountains all around. The service was filled with music and testimony. Most funerals run around one hour long. This one was at least an hour and a half, and nobody minded. We knew we'd miss Ron, but we knew that his life was full of the joy of the Lord, and he was with God. There was a huge potluck afterwards. My dad's funeral was very simple, and that was the right tone. My mother was uncomfortable in the small Roman Catholic Church, and it was just she and me--no other family could come. The after party was right too. My dad would have enjoyed every bit of it. When my dad's mom died, we had the full Roman Catholic funeral mass, complete with Communion and incense. I read Scripture in that service--me! the evangelical Protestant standing in an RC chancel. I read Revelation 21:3-4. The after get together was good after that service too.

I suspect that this may be true of the after events for the Glaser family, and for the Shawnee Fire Department. The big public service has limitations--length and the inclusion of much personality among them. Also, I would say the faith situation was complicated in the Glaser family. Mr. Glaser was raised Roman Catholic. Mrs. Glaser was raised in the very church where the funeral occurred--UM Church of the Resurrection. It sound like at this point in their lives church was not as important as it was. Mrs. Glaser reached back to her childhood church for comfort. A Catholic priest was part of the service though, but without the Roman Catholic bells and whistles. Anyway, it's now, after all the visitors and VIPs are gone, and it's just family and friends, and Mr. Glaser's crew, now both the true grieving, visiting, remembering, laughing, crying, and laughingandcrying (yes, both at the same time--I've done it) will happen. There will be good food and drink. The foundation will be laid for the support that the family family and the work family will need over the coming days, weeks, months and even years in the future, the days when you wake up and the person is still gone.

So in the end, what is a funeral for? I think it's a marker--a flag planted in a place and time--that highlights what has happened. A person has died. A particular person, with certain quirks, traits, interests, loves, friends, family and work. A funeral helps to clarify who that person was--not a complete picture for sure but a picture--and what they did in their lives. We come together and celebrate together in community those things. At the same time, we remember that they are gone, and we grieve that gone-ness. A funeral in a way is not just an end, but a beginning in that respect. We will go on the rest of our lives without that person. That hurts, but the best way to honor the one who is gone, is to embrace the pain of missing them, and then live life at the top of our lungs, in dedication to them.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. he will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:3-4 NIV

Click "Read More" for more photos by The Observer...also more will be on the photo blog later.

Members of the Shawnee Fire Department Shift B--FF Glaser's shift--ride with his casket to the church in the procession.
One reminder that the Fire Department is a quasi military organization: Personnel attending salute as the casket enters the church. Hard to see in the sea of hats!

After the funeral, another reminder: a 21 gun salute. Again, you have to look carefully among the hats, but there are guns being fired.
Life Flight Eagle did a fly over.
An upclose look at the bunting on the Shawnee engine used to bring John Glaser's casket to the church.
Yeah, I know it's out of focus. But it was so typical of the sort of visiting that took place after the service outside the church.

Many more photos have been posted to the Facebook page as well.


peedee said...

I've been to 5 funerals in my life. My grandfather, a high school buddy 1 year after we graduated, two of Laurens friends (one when she was 12 and one just last summer) and a friend from work little girl a couple of years ago. 5 too many.

Its funny but I dont do death well. I say that because when I was a Paramedic I saw and dealt with a lot of dead people and although I was concious of the fact it didnt bother me like the death of someone I know.

I want to say its the massive emotions that come out at the service and afterwards. I hate crying in front of people. Stupid I know. And granted 4 of the funerals I've been to have been children so the emotions seemed to have been magnified. And like you said the real acknowledgement that you will never, ever see this person again really sets in.

I suppose I'm lucky. Only 5 people I've known well enough to go to their funeral is not bad in 44 years.

I'm sorry for you, your community and his families loss.

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
I did learn about ceremonies early in life--I think it is as you say, something that marks the place.

I hope Mrs. Glaser and her community have been comforted. I am so sorry for the loss of John Glaser.

Ann T.

the observer said...

peedee and Ann T:
Thanks for stopping by on this post. As I wrote it, I wondered if it might have a bad effect on people who had experienced bad losses by death in their lives. And as I read it later, I felt it was an inadequate effort--but then I came to the conclusion that most efforts from this journyman writer would have fallen short.

Two areas: One, John Glaser--his biography I neglected. He knew his wife growing up, but they met to marry in Florida. He joined the Fire Dept after 9/11. He was a huge sports guy, an active KU fan, commenting on KU blogs. One of the blogs he favored streamed the funeral service. His chief testified to his willingness to do anything for the FD.

Second was the wonderful and strangely comforting military rituals with the funeral--some from the fire service and some from the Marine Corps. It would not have been as fitting a service or as comforting without the honor guard of firefighter and marine at visitation, or taps at the end of the service.

A fitting bit of commentary on this Memorial Day weekend.

Everyone have a great holiday--and Never Forget!

The Observer