What Is it About a Funeral?

Why is that funerals always lead to some of the best family reunions? Sadly, I think it’s because many of us don’t make time to spend with family members unless it’s literally forced – like a funeral – it’s just something you must attend. I’m just as guilty as many others for not making and taking the time to go on vacations and visit with family. My past 4 years in college seemed to be selfishly all about me – and if I could go back and make changes, I sure would.  This past week on July 4th, I lost my grandpa, 84 years old – a witty, happy, smiley old man – who I loved dearly. Not only was it his death that affected me so much but I think it was the fact that one more piece of my own dad had been taken away from me, again – 8 years later. Besides that point, I got to actually spend some quality time with my grandma, cousins, aunts and uncles. And twenty-two years later I finally take the time to get to know a side of PopPop I didn’t know about. The fact that he swept my grandma off her feet (while she was engaged to another man who was in the war oversees) is something I would have never imagined him doing! Nana and PopPop met on New Years Eve and a mutual friends party at age 18 and became happily married just a few short years later. It’s simple details like these that I wish I would of learned more about while he was still around.

Nana and PopPop in their prime 🙂

Death is never an easy thing for anyone, and I feel like so many questions tend to follow. Especially losing a dad at 14, I was constantly wondering “why me?” “why now” “why so early?” “why can’t he see me graduate?” “who’s going to walk me down the aisle?” endless questions, with no answers. I think a lot of people have mixed emotions, anger, sadness, emptiness and many times depression. I struggled with a lot of this – however, I knew it was time for my grandpa to go, especially with his recent condition. The first thing everyone in my family said was that PopPop couldn’t be more ecstatic and happy to be up there in Heaven, back with his son (my dad), sippin’ on scotch on the rocks and casting a line out for some deep sea fishing. I’ve been told by many of my friends that I deal with death really well. I don’t know that I deal with it well, I think it’s just that I convince myself that they are in a better place, I’ve gained a few extra guardian angels to look down on me and there’s something to look forward to after my time here, seeing my dad and grandpa again, happy and healthy.

PopPop and my Dad (or for those of you who are familiar with The Hangover it could very well be Zach Galifianakis for all I know)

Anyways, the idea of writing this post was triggered after my friend passed on a story to me – a story full of words that have brought more comfort to me than I’ve ever felt in the past 8 years. I believe the words are actually from a book called 90 Minutes in Heaven, which I’ve yet to read. For those of you still struggling with a recent death – or even if you love an inspirational read – take the time to read some of the portions of the book that my friend passed along to me. I know it’s long but I guarantee you’ll walk away with a new feeling of comfort and happiness – and I think a lot of questions can be reassured and possibly even answered for you 🙂

“I died on January 18, 1989. Paramedics reached the scene of the accident within minutes. They found no pulse and declared me dead. They covered me with a tarp so that onlookers wouldn’t stare at me while they attended to the injuries of the others. I was completely unaware of the paramedics or anyone else around me. Immediately after I died, I went straight to heaven. While I was in heaven, a Baptist preacher came on the accident scene. Even though he knew I was dead, he rushed to my lifeless body and prayed for me. Despite the scoffing of the Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), he refused to stop praying. At least ninety minutes after the EMTs pronounced me dead, I returned to earth.”

“When I died, I didn’t flow through a long, dark tunnel. I had no sense of fading away or of coming back.” “Simultaneous with my last recollection of seeing the bridge and the rain, a light enveloped me, with a brilliance beyond earthly comprehension or description.”

“In my next moment of awareness, I was standing in heaven.”

“Joy pulsated through me as I looked around, and at that moment I became aware of a large crowd of people. They stood in front of a brilliant, ornate gate. I have no idea how far away they were; such things as distance didn’t matter. As the crowd rushed toward me, I didn’t see Jesus, but I did see people I had known. As they surged toward me, I knew instantly that all of them had died during my lifetime. Their presence seemed absolutely natural. They rushed toward me, and every person was smiling, shouting, and praising God. Although no one said so, intuitively I knew they were my celestial welcoming committee. It was as if they had all gathered just outside heaven’s gate, waiting for me. The first person I recognized was Joe Kullbeth, my grandfather. He looked exactly as I remembered him, with his shock of white hair and what I called a big banana nose. He stopped momentarily and stood in front of me. A grin covered his face. I may have called his name, but I’m not sure. “Donnie!” (That’s what my grandfather always called me.) His eyes lit up, and he held out his arms as he took the last steps toward me. He embraced me, holding me tightly. He was once again the robust, strong grandfather I had remembered as a child. I’d been with him when he suffered a heart attack at home and had ridden with him in the ambulance. I had been standing just outside the emergency room at the hospital when the doctor walked out and faced me. He shook his head and said softly, “We did everything we could. My grandfather released me, and as I stared into his face, an ecstatic bliss overwhelmed me. I didn’t think about his heart attack or his death, because I couldn’t get past the joy of our reunion. How either of us reached heaven seemed irrelevant. I have no idea why my grandfather was the first person I saw. Perhaps it had something to do with my being there when he died. He wasn’t one of the great spiritual guides of my life, although he certainly influenced me positively in that way. After being hugged by my grandfather, I don’t remember who was second or third. The crowd surrounded me. Some hugged me and a few kissed my cheek, while others pumped my hand. Never had I felt more loved.

“One person in that greeting committee was Mike Wood, my childhood friend. Mike was special because he invited me to Sunday school and was influential in my becoming a Christian I knew…”

“…Never had I seen Mike smile so brightly. I still didn’t know why, but the joyousness of the place wiped away any questions. Everything felt blissful. Perfect.

“More and more people reached for me and called me by name. I felt overwhelmed by the number of people who had come to welcome me to heaven. There were so many of them, and I had never imagined anyone being as happy as they all were. Their faces radiated a serenity I had never seen on earth. All were full of life and expressed radiant joy.”

“Time had no meaning. However, for clarity, I’ll relate this experience in terms that refer to time.”

“I say my great-grandfather, heard his voice, and felt his embrace as he told me how excited he was that I had come to join them. I saw Barry Wilson, Who had been my classmate in high school but later drowned in a lake. Barry hugged me, and his smile radiated a happiness I didn’t know was possible. He and everyone that followed praised God and told me how excited they were to see me and to welcome me to heaven and to the fellowship they enjoyed.

Just then, I spotted two teachers who had loved me and often talked to me about Jesus Christ. As I walked among them, I became aware of the wide variety of ages—old and young and every age in-between. Many of them hadn’t know each other on earth, but each had influenced my life in some way. Even though they hadn’t met on earth, they seemed to know each other now.”

“As I try to explain this, my words seem weak and hardly adequate, because I have to use earthly terms to refer to unimaginable joy, excitement, warmth, and total happiness. Everyone continually embraced me, touched me, spoke to me, laughed, and praised God. This seemed to go on for a long time, but I didn’t tire of it.”

“…greatest family reunion of all.”

“Everything I experienced was like a first-class buffet for the senses. I had never felt such powerful embraces or feasted my eyes on such beauty. Heaven’s light and texture defy earthly eyes or explanation. Warm, radiant light engulfed me. As I looked around, I could hardly grasp the vivid, dazzling colors. Every hue and tone surpassed anything I had ever seen.”

“With all the heighted awareness of my senses, I felt as if I had never seen, heard, or felt anything so real before.”

“…that I felt as if I were in another dimension. Never, even in my happiest moments, had I ever felt so fully alive. I stood speechless in front of the crowd of loved ones, still trying to take in everything.”

“…no sense of time passing. I gazed at all the faces again as I realized that they all had contributed to my becoming a Christian or had encouraged me in my growth as a beliver. Each one had affected me positively. Each had.“ I wasn’t conscious of anything I’d left behind and felt no regrets about leaving family or possessions. It was as if God had removed anything negative or worrisome from my consciousness, and I could only rejoice at being together with these wonderful people.They looked exactly as I once knew them—although they were more radiant and joyful than they’d ever been on earth. My great-grandmother, Hattie Mann, was Native American. As a child I saw her only after she had developed osteoporosis. Her head and shoulders were bent forward, giving her a humped appearance. I especially remember her extremely wrinkled face. The other thing that stands out in my memory is that she had false teeth—which she didn’t wear often. Yet when she smiled at me in heaven, her teeth sparkled. I knew they were her own, and when she smiled, it was the most beautiful smile I had ever seen. Then I noticed something else—she wasn’t slumped over. She stood strong and upright, and the wrinkles had been erased from her face. I have no idea what age she was, and I didn’t even think about that. As I stared at her beaming face, I sensed that age has no meaning in heaven.

“…Even thought some of their features may not have been considered attractive on earth, in heaven every feature was perfect, beautiful, and wonderful to gaze at.”

“…and no matter which direction I looked, I saw someone I had loved and who had loved me. They surrounded me, moving around so that everyone had a chance to welcome me to heaven. I felt loved—more loved than ever before in my life. At some point, I looked around and the sight overwhelmed me. Everything was brilliantly intense. Coming out from the gate—a short distance ahead—was a brilliance that was brighter than the light that surrounded us, utterly luminous. As soon as I stopped gazing at the people’s faces, I realized that everything around me glowed with a dazzling intensity. In trying to describe the scene, words are totally inadequate, because human words can’t express the feelings of awe and wonder at what I beheld.