Friend's Funeral

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VIII (3) | Start of Chapter

A funeral under any circumstances, or among any people, whether Christian or pagan, has a solemnity which casts a shade, for a moment at least, over all levity; and never probably in war or peace, in pomp or destitution, among civilized or uncivilized, was there a procession bearing to its last home a body from which the soul had fled, which did not produce on the minds of the multitude a check if not a reflection, that the "deep, damp vault," where the departed is about to be shut from the light of the world and the converse of his fellow-men, was a mysterious hiding-place, into which secret the souls of the living did not wish to enter.

It was about midsummer on a sunny morning, when looking from the door of William Martin, in Cork, a procession unexpectedly moved before my vision, and never in the short space of a moment did more painful and pleasant remembrances pass in review. Painful, because were again presented the friends, who in my native land, one by one as they departed, rose in succession before me, and because I knew there were sorrowing hearts in that train—and mine well knew the pangs of such; but pleasant, because in the comely throng, who with slow and solemn step measured the distance, the unnatural custom which mock fashion has introduced was not manifest. Woman was in that procession, precisely the procession where she belongs—woman, whose heart emphatically can "weep with those that weep,"—woman, who loves to the last, and acts to the last; why, tell us why, should she not follow to the narrow, dark house, the relative she has cherished, or the neighbor she has valued and loved; the friend with whom she may have taken "sweet counsel, and walked to the house of God in company?" Why should she not go "in company" now "to the house appointed for all living," and where she shall, in her own due time, he transported? Pleasant, too, because the vain trappings of hireling undertakers, "nodding plumes," mourning horses and black hearses were not there. It was simply and truly a Friend's funeral.

Not stopping to inquire the name or age of the deceased, or who would accompany me, I crossed the street and joined the procession. Like the burial in the city of Nain eighteen hundred years ago, "much people of the city" were there. A mile or more through the town, gave time for that reflection so suitable and profitable when the soul is necessarily summoned to the face of that "King of Terrors," and there interrogated as to its present state and future destiny. Slowly and silently the entrance to that inclosure, where the dead were congregated, was opened and passed; and as with the pen of a diamond was that panorama impressed on my eye and heart. It was a square of smooth green, with the exception of the unpretending hillocks, which without a stone told that the dead lay there. The whole inclosure was surrounded by trees of rich summer foliage; these, as they waved gracefully over the wall, shed a trembling shadow upon the emerald covering of the beds of the sleeping, and the still house of death was quietly approached, and every member of that Society sat down together to this mourning feast, and there in solemn sweet silence waited to hear what God would say. The narrow bed was open before them—the plain coffin that inclosed the body of the dead was waiting to enter—an interval of some thirty minutes of solemn silence was broken by a deep-toned measured voice; and never before did the words, "Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord," so sweetly, so solemnly, so unearthly, fall on my ear—as if standing on the Isle of Patmos, the voice that spake to John, seemed to reverberate through that assembly, that to me appeared as if already standing on "Mount Zion before the Lamb." The sentences were short and pithy, and from them I ascertained that the departed before us was an aged female, who had fulfilled as a faithful hireling her day, and had come to the grave "like a shock of corn fully ripe." He praised her not in studied eulogiums—he held her not up between us and the Lamb who redeemed her, as a bright pattern for our imitation; but he said deeply and emphatically, "Yea, they rest from their labors and their works do follow them." He dwelt a moment on that sweet rest prepared for the people of God, and if any were there who had not entered into it, surely they must then have felt a desire.

He was followed by one who addressed the Majesty of heaven with that adoration which always marks the manner of one whose supplications emanate from the deep working of the Holy Spirit within the soul, and that speaks because it feels, and feels because it has something to feel. It was done—the coffin was carefully let down to its long resting-place—"Dust to dust" met, green sod was fitly placed on her breast, nor was the silence in the least broken till all had passed the inclosure.

I would not exchange that hour for a thousand dinner parties of fashionable professors, or pompous burials of the titled great, who have lived but to be honored, and whose true epitaph could only be—

"He lived and died."