Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Memorial Service - Charles Part 3

The Anniversary

My last visit with Charles* at the jail was the day before he was scheduled to be released. He was relieved to be going home, but also seemed troubled and listless.

The date of his release had extreme significance for him, though I honestly can't recall which of two events it represented. It was either his natural mother's birthday or the anniversary of her death - on the summer night when he believed she was saying goodbye to him.

Whichever the date represented to him, he felt the need to visit her grave. It wouldn't be the first time he'd visited it, but he felt drawn to it on that anniversary. However, with a revoked drivers license, he couldn't drive there himself, and he felt uncomfortable asking his adoptive mom to take him there, even though he felt confident she would have been glad to do it.

The answer was obvious. I offered to take him there; he accepted. So we began making plans. He would be going home from jail with his parents, but he would call me when he arrived and I'd pick him up at their house.

Then I had a thought.

"Since you weren't able to attend her funeral, would you like me to plan a little memorial service for her for tomorrow?"

Charles not only indicated his pleasure with the idea, but began making plans of his own, which I would discover the next day.

The Service

Once again, I was wading in unfamiliar waters.

Although I was an ordained elder in my church (Presbyterian) and had experience as a lay speaker, I had never officiated at a funeral - or memorial - service. But I was absolutely certain that God would give me the words to say, hear our prayers, and lay a comforting hand on Charles' shoulder as we shared this special time together.

The next morning, I gathered up my Bible, my cassette tape player, and a tape of The Lord's Prayer (I can't recall the artist), and waited for Charles' phone call.

At his home a bit later, I spent a little time chatting with his parents before leaving for the cemetery. I had met his mom previously, but not his dad. Wonderful folks.

The weather was perfect; the drive to the cemetery enjoyable. Our brief but meaningful service consisted of prayers, select Bible readings (including the 23rd Psalm, of course), listening to the beautiful rendition of The Lord's Prayer, and an opportunity for both Charles and I to share some personal thoughts in his mother's memory.

Charles Leaves a Message 

When we returned to the car after our ceremony, Charles took his Polaroid camera from its case and handed it to me.

"I'd like you to take my picture at her grave," he said.

Her gravestone was flush with the ground, so he knelt by it and put his hand on it for the photo. After it came from the camera, he checked it and approved it for the next step. He asked if I had anything to write with, and I gave him a pen from my purse. He put the photo against the hood of the car and wrote something on the wide, white space at the bottom of it.

"You wouldn't happen to have a plastic bag of any kind in the car for me to put this in, would you?" he asked.

I had no idea what he had in mind, but I poked around in my car and found only one thing that might suffice: a little plastic 'envelope' from a floppy disk.

He handed me the camera again, took the now plastic-covered photo, and asked me to take another picture for him. Returning to the gravestone, he knelt and began to dig a narrow slot beside it, using only his fingers. When it was deep enough, he placed the photo - with message for his mom - into the slot and covered it with the loose soil. It was while he was doing this that he wanted the second picture taken - for his own memento.

I can tell you that I've had tears in my eyes throughout the writing of this account.

God bless you, Charles, wherever life has taken you since that memorable day.


*Charles is a pseudonym, as are all names in this series.

Charles Part One - The Psychic Connection

Charles Part Two - An Hour in the Drunk Tank

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