The late morning breeze carried the scent of the bright bouquets to those assembled under the canopy sitting atop one of the many blue-green hills of western North Carolina. The coolness and smell of the flowers were welcomed by the group seeking refuge from the sun in the shade of the awning. Men stood quietly while they pulled on tight collars. Women shifted their weight from one high heel to the other. And a sister, seated with her son and other close family beside her, stared blankly ahead at the casket before them.
The preacher began speaking, and told of a life that began in the days of the Great Depression. Though she had witnessed the rise of what many consider modern advances in this new "Age of Convenience," he testified to how she had never forgotten her roots and the simple pleasures found in a life lived for others. Keeping her house tidy and welcome. Sitting around the dinner table on a Sunday afternoon visiting with friends and family. Giving bottles of Avon products to her brothers' and sister's children at Christmastime (the perfume well-used by the nieces, the bottles of cologne untouched by the nephews). Attending church and then, when the arthritis crippling her body made it impossible for her to go, giving warm welcomes to those visiting from her church family. At points a sob could be heard; at others a chuckle of remembrance.
As the pastor continued, the son turned in his chair and glanced sideways at his mother, whose dulled expression seemed unaffected by the words or the event. "He could add to the list that despite her own pain, Aunt Mary called Mom every day all these months to try to encourage her out of her depression," the son contemplated. "What will Mom do now without her?" As his thoughts returned to the Psalms being read, the words both encouraged and troubled his heart. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want...Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me...Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise." The joy of an aunt being in God's immediate presence contrasted sharply with the pain his mother's condition brought to him. As he closed his eyes for the final prayer of committal, his own unspoken words ascended heavenward with those of the preacher's. "Oh, Lord, surely I mourn the living who are dead far more than the dead who are living. Hear my cry, O my God."
As he opened his eyes and sat in the post-service silence, the pile of red, Carolina clay to the side of the casket brought to mind the words read earlier in the service, "From dust you came, and to dust you shall return." In the quiet moment, he considered that the only dirt more red, a testimony that this all-encompassing epitaph can be erased, was the blood-splattered earth of Calvary. With a heavy sigh that died within like the fading cool of the breeze, he rose from his seat to help his mother.