It was an overcast day at the graveside when we laid my wife’s mother down. The sky was the color of Quickrete. And it was hot. Grown men had sweat marks on the seats of their Sunday trousers. Ladies were fanning themselves.
Welcome to a funeral in South Alabama at high noon.
I led my wife beneath the tent while she clutched my arm tightly. I released her, kissed her forehead, and stood behind the casket, willing myself not to cry.
I had one official job today. To sing. I was supposed to sing three hymns. My friend, Aaron, drove all the way from Montgomery to accompany me on fiddle. And I was already choking up before things began.
Anyone who knows anything about singing knows that you can not sing if you are crying. Your throat closes up and you sound like a frog with laryngitis.
When I glanced at the mass of good people standing around the tent, things weren’t looking good for me. My chin began to wobble. My vision went
“Pull yourself together,” I was muttering quietly.
The preacher was in good voice. Brother Andy brought a Methodist message that made your heart feel good and sore at the same time. If there has ever been a funeral homily delivered with more humility and grace, it happened somewhere in Galilee.
Then it was my turn. The preacher gave me The Nod. The fiddle began playing. And it was time. The moment of truth.
I cleared my throat.
I opened my mouth and did my level best to sing “Amazing Grace” without messing up. And in this moment, I couldn’t help but remember the first time I ever sang at a funeral.
I was 10 years old. It was my grandfather’s funeral. My mother had wanted all six verses of “Amazing Grace.” Six long, arduous, hard-to-learn verses. She gave me one week to memorize them.