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Singing praise for the perfect funeral

POSTED: July 27, 2014 1:00 a.m.
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HARRIS' RECENT COLUMNS

Death is the one event in life that will eventually happen. It is also the one for which we are least prepared.

I find it particularly sad when someone who has died leaves instructions they want no funeral service.

While the departed person is the guest of honor at a funeral, it really isn’t for them. It is for their friends and family to grieve and celebrate a life.

I read a book a few years ago called, “Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide To Hosting the Perfect Funeral.” The book suggests the two biggest events of a Southerner’s life are a wedding and a funeral. You have a year to plan a wedding, while a funeral must be put together in a matter of days.

Asa Autry died a couple of weeks ago. He lived two months shy of being 96 years old. He was a World War II Army veteran. For 27 years, Asa and his wife, Grace, hosted a reunion for Asa’s Army outfit. For years, they filled up hotel ballrooms with veterans from all across the country. Sadly, as the Greatest Generation began dying off, so did the Army reunion.

Asa spent many years as a USDA poultry inspector. Grace worked for the old Gainesville Midland Railroad. They had friends everywhere.

I doubt Grace Autry has read the guide to good funerals, but she may have succeeded in throwing the closest thing I’ve seen to a perfect funeral.

Grace sings alto in the First Baptist Church choir and everybody loves her. She is petite, cute and never has a hair out of place. As someone once said, she looks like she just stepped out of a bandbox. A bandbox was a type of box used by nicer clothing stores a couple of generations ago.

So when Grace asked if a few choir members would sing for Asa, it was really no surprise 71 of us showed up.

Mark Green, the Alabama-born piano master who leads our music, played and sung “It Is Well With My Soul,” like it ought to be played and sung. I am pretty sure all 88 keys were used.

Then, Mildred Carpenter, who is one of my favorite people on the planet, played and sang “Amazing Grace” as only she can. Mildred has been playing for funerals since she was in grade school. She has played so many times she didn’t need a note of sheet music.

Several folks, including Bill Coates, Bruce Fields and Kent Murphey of the First Baptist staff, offered their remembrances of Asa, as did former Sheriff Steve Cronic, Asa’s nephew.

Sometimes, preachers get a little carried away with trying to scare folks into making professions of faith at funerals. I’ll hear about this, but I think that’s wrong.

The Bible says, “You’ll know a tree by the fruit it bears.” Asa Autry’s life was a tree filled with lots of low-hanging fruit. I want to live a life like that.

Asa’s funeral was a service of worship for God, respect for a man’s well-lived life and an outpouring of love and comfort for his family.

Perfect? Somebody else will have to decide that. But I left with a lot of love in my heart for the man and the God who made him.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.

 

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