A perfectly timed mistake

When I learned about a former parishioner’s death from a mutual friend, the Preacher and I didn’t question whether to attend her funeral. Of course we’d go. Dorothy’s family (name changed) regularly attended our last church. A few years earlier, the Preacher had officiated at her husband’s funeral. Both were precious friends – the sort of people who make a clergyman’s job a joy.

“It’s Saturday at two,” the Preacher said, quickly checking the announcement on the funeral home’s website. We cleared our calendars, inserted “Dorothy’s funeral,” and prepared a card.

At the funeral home, we noticed a pair of casual friends in the foyer. I watched as they greeted people with hugs and earnest conversation.

Small world, I thought. I never knew they had a connection to Dorothy, I thought. But then, the city’s not that big, I thought.

I hugged them. “How lovely of you to come,” she said, seeming surprised. “Thank you for making time,” he said. “We wouldn’t have missed it,” I said. “But how were you connected to Dorothy?”

“Dorothy? Dorothy? Don’t you mean Rhoda?” (name also changed.)

I fumbled, suddenly sensing that any words I managed must first pass through the toes of the foot I’d unwittingly stuffed into my mouth. I glanced over at the Preacher. He seemed equally discombobulated.

The husband spoke, his voice kind. “Are you perhaps at the wrong funeral home?”

I looked around. Couldn’t be. I saw someone I knew had also known Dorothy. One of those “everybody’s out of step but my Johnny,” moments darted into my synapses. Clearly, THEY’D come to the wrong funeral! “I don’t think so,” I stammered. “The website said Saturday at two….”

Clarity struck with a disheartening thud. No. Somehow, we’d ended up at the funeral of the husband’s mother. Rhoda. A vibrant, caring woman we’d met just once, at one of my book signings. We both remembered her well.

Clarity struck our friends too. I saw it on their faces. We hadn’t shown up to support them at all. We’d crashed their family funeral. Arrived by accident, not intention.

I wanted to run. I wished to be vaporized. I prayed to be transported.

The Preacher found his tongue. Managed the perfect words. “Oh, no. We’re staying right here.” Grabbing my elbow, he steered me, still stuttering, into the chapel. Once seated, he checked his phone. “Right place, wrong date,” he whispered. “Dorothy’s funeral isn’t for two weeks.” I faced forward, mortified. Wondering if our friends would ever talk to us again.

As the service progressed, as the familiar holy atmosphere of sacred readings, loving farewell and fond memories surrounded us, I calmed. Rhoda’s son and his wife have a reputation for blessing others, including us, with their quiet kindness and cheer. Suddenly it seemed that we were in exactly the right place – among other friends supporting them on this hard day. A Divine appointment.

Those who follow Christ are called to share each other’s joys and sorrows. I count that a privilege, even when it happens by accident.