The slide show plays on the monitor on the wall, a large selection of pictures from her life on repeat roll past, with no pattern to the selection. Here she is in her team photo from when she played basketball in 1940, here she is in the nursing home, here she is at her second wedding 10 years ago, here she is at 17 doing a backbend.
We are gathered in a loose circle in front of the coffin that contains the subject of the slide show. We alternate between pointing out things on the slides, looking at the woman in the casket, and having snippets of conversation. We are participating in the “viewing”, a much more sedate version of the wake, where the body is on display a few hours so friends and loved ones can pop by to say a few words and pay their respects.
The slide show is a recent innovation.
As we stand there, someone says, “I bet she can hear us right now, and is laughing.”
Her granddaughter turns to me. “Can she?”
“Can she what”, I ask.
“You’re a preacher. Can she hear us?”
“Oh. I don’t know”, I say, quite truthfully.
A long pause ensues.
“I mean, I can tell you what the Christian tradition say – actually traditions, because there is more than one version. But nobody really knows.
“But I can tell you that she loved God. We are told there is no place God is not, so she was with God before her passing, and she is with God after her passing, and she is more fully in the presence of God now than she was before.”
“So she is in heaven.” Another lady chimed in.
“Again, I don’t know that she is in some specific place or what that looks like. Nobody does. But I do know she is no longer confused, and no longer hurting, and she had a long, hard life and is now at peace.
“Meanwhile, we have dozens of stories to remind us of when she was here and how much she loved us, and we have the opportunity every day for the rest of our lives to be the sort of person she thought we could be. And in turn, we pass those lessons on, and her influence and love will continue on for generations.”
Another long pause.
“I like that”, one woman says. “I like that a lot.”
Me too, I say. Me too.