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April 28, 2013

VASICEK: Of tigers, funerals and a respite from the bad news

— Life has been too bleak lately: The Boston Marathon bombing, the tragic West Texas explosion, record flooding, and manic-depressive weather in Kokomo. So when Elmer rang my doorbell, I thought, “Oh no. I don’t need this.”

“Howdy, Ed,” Elmer beamed, his gold tooth as prominent as ever. “Thought I’d stop by and tell you about a news story I read.”

“Sure, come on in, Elmer,” I offered. The front of my brain was telling the back of my brain to get a better attitude.

“Just caught this out of Salina, Kansas, from the AP: ‘A central Kansas woman likely won’t remember her first circus for the clowns or performances — it’ll be the tiger in the bathroom.

“‘The big cat had escaped briefly after its turn in the ring Saturday ... Staff members blocked off the concourses ... as the tiger wandered into the bathroom, where one of the doors was blockaded.

“‘About that time, Salina resident Jenna Krehbiel decided she needed to use the restroom. When she walked in the door that hadn’t been blocked off, she found a tiger standing about 2 feet away ...

“‘“You don’t expect to go in a bathroom door, have it shut behind you and see a tiger walking toward you,” Krehbiel said.

“‘... Krehbiel, a social worker, said she didn’t scream or run because she is trained to stay calm.’”

“That is something, Elmer. Why, I remember the commercials about having a tiger in your tank. I never heard tell of having a tiger BY your tank,” I chuckled. At this point, I was glad Elmer stopped by.

“Ed,” Elmer confided, “I came by for a theological opinion. You see, today I took my Great Uncle Ned to his quack of a doctor. Doctor told him he would live to be 100. Ned said he already was 100. His doctor responded, ‘See, what did I tell you?’”

“No?” I marveled in unbelief.

“Yes!” Elmer affirmed. “But this got me thinking. My health is good and all that, but I thought maybe I should make prepaid arrangements.  Anyhow, I wanted your opinion on stuff like viewing and cremation and all that. Even though I attend the Next-To-Last Church in Kokomo, I thought I’d get your view.”

“Well,” I replied, “I think viewings are a good idea. Some people have trouble with the idea of viewing a dead body, but I think it helps most family and friends. It makes you face that the person is gone; you are confronted with a reality you would rather not face. It helps you grieve, but it structures the grief. It’s real hard when the family first views the body, and it’s hard when they close the casket at the end of the service, but it’s a good kind of hard. We need a routine in our grief.”

“I see your point; my funeral would not really be about me, but is for the ones I love. I never thought of it this way.” I was not used to seeing Elmer solemn.

“As far as cremation goes, a lot of people have different opinions about this. Most arguments I have heard are pretty shabby extensions of principles, not really logical. I personally have no problem with cremation, but I do think it is good to have a place for those left behind to visit and grieve. Structure helps. I am not a big traditionalist, but I do think that our forefathers have accumulated an understanding of human nature that we should consider. I think the traditional viewing, funeral and burial in a cemetery is a good thing, whether cremated or not.”

“Thanks, Ed.” I could not believe that Elmer and I had a positive conversation, no cynicism. But it was too good to be true.

“You sure you aren’t in cahoots with the undertakers? I know you are all buddy-buddy,” Elmer accused.

“How about some coffee, Elmer?” I offered. Suddenly, Elmer decided to head home. Coffee works every time.

Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at edvasicek@att.net.

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