Coping With Cancer: The Funeral

By Margaret Nyman

November 8, 2009

What makes a perfect funeral? Strong attendance, beautiful weather, meaningful music, a powerful program, an abundance of flowers and good food. Today we had every bit of that.

As with any pre-planned event, there were moments of quiet drama leading up to it. For example, Louisa struggled to find something of her dad’s she could wear or display throughout the day as a testimony of her love for him. We didn’t accomplish that, much to her frustration.

As people entered the room at the funeral home, they could track Nate’s life on 14 poster boards full of photographs, arranged in chronological order. All of us were greeted with the scent of many flowers, and sunshine streamed through the windows. Crowds began arriving well before the start of the service, and at the stroke of noon, music filled the large room.

Family members sat in the first several rows of seats, and I took one last look toward the back of the room just before we sat down. It was standing room only with extra chairs in the hallway, and as we began the service, folks were still arriving. Later they told us nearly 300 people had attended.

As the service started, all seven children plus our two children-in-law stood side-by-side facing the audience. Adam prayed, and the four girls welcomed everyone with thank yous for the unending loving care so many had shown us during the last whirlwind weeks. Then the four boys read the eulogy, written by our daughter Linnea. Several had difficulty but all pushed through their readings with courage. Nate would have loved it.

As I scanned the line-up of our kids, ages 19 through 36, my heart ached with deep love for each one. They were gaining in maturity by leaps and bounds as a result of these difficult weeks and the death of their father and father-in-law, because it’s during life’s crises that we grow.

My brother-in-law read parts of Psalm 103 from the Old Testament, and my brother read from 2 Corinthians 4 and 5, interspersed with Nate’s two favorite hymns: “Blessed Assurance” and “Beautiful Savior.” Pastor Colin delivered an effective message from Revelation 7 with five points highlighting what Nate was doing right now, four days after his death, in heaven. His powerful invitation for others to be sure they would one day join Nate there was an answer to my prayers.

After folks had filed past Nate’s casket, giving us the chance to see each person who had attended, we got one last opportunity to look at the body of the man we loved. Standing there crying, there was only one thing to do: pray. My kids put their arms around me and each other as we thanked God for Nate’s life, for our family, for each person who came to celebrate his life and most of all for God himself, the one who’d been with us all the way through and who we knew would not leave us now.

As the casket was being carried out by our four sons, our son-in-law, Nate’s brother and a young man who was like a son to us, the funeral director handed me a small green velvet pouch. “His wedding ring,” he said.

I turned to Louisa standing nearby and said, “Here’s Papa’s ring. Would you keep it safe for me?” Finally she was “wearing” something extremely representative of her father, just as she’d hoped, and I saw the Lord’s tender touch in how and when this had occurred.

Since the cemetery was adjacent to the funeral home, our train of cars, though long, traveled only a matter of blocks. The unusually warm November day helped the cemetery service go well as Nate’s body was committed back to the earth. We each put a red rose on the casket, along with the seven pairs of white gloves worn by the pall bearers.

After the benediction, people hung around the gravesite enjoying the sunshine and summery breezes. We waited to watch the casket being lowered into the ground until it hit bottom. In my mind, that was the moment when it was finished.

Driving to a local church for a lunch put together by dear friends, we feasted on fruit and salads, sandwiches and cake. Precious moments of conversation with those who stuck with us to that point were especially valuable.

The only thing missing was … Nate.

But we were all encouraged by the prophet Isaiah’s words: “The Lord has anointed me to … bind up the brokenhearted … to comfort all that mourn … to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness … that the Lord might be glorified.”

Guest contributor Margaret Nyman chronicles the 42 days after her husband Nate, a patient at Rush University Medical Center, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Read more posts by visiting the Coping With Cancer section or subscribing to the RSS feed. Her personal blog is at

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