Handshakes

I don’t remember the last funeral I had attended. My experience with death is largely limited to the hospital: me, attending to a code, defibrillating, doing chest compressions. As soon as the death certificates are signed and the bodies brought to the morgue, I don’t know what happens next. There must be mourning and crying and staying up late over multiple tables of mahjong and cards, entertaining guests with crispy crackers and hot cups of coffee.

Tonight I visited the funeral of a 70-year old friend from church. I slowly walked towards the casket, peeked through the glass, and saw his body—his face well made-up, his smile a remnant of what it had once used to be. He was hospitalized some three weeks ago, when the doctors discovered a bleeding gastric mass that looked malignant.

I remember him as the face who greeted me every Sunday—his handshake firm, his smile warm, his words encouraging. “Good morning, brother!” he used to say to me back in my college days, which later turned to, “Good morning, Doc!” after I had finished med school. He was cheerful, bringing sunshine to otherwise world-weary souls. I heard he was a great driver, too—an observation that, during the eulogy, made many people chuckle.

Life is short; but then again, anything is brief in light of eternity. Yet he lived his life for God’s glory. He shook hands, cheered everyone up, and welcomed visitors and old-timers to church with that aim in mind. He shared the gospel of Jesus Christ unashamedly. On the way to the funeral parlor, I imagined him doing handshakes in heaven, in the fellowship with the saints, in the loving arms of his Savior.

You finished strong, Brother Tom. We hope that, when our time comes, we will, too.

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