When COVID began to sweep across America, schools, business, and even churches closed, and the country was quiet, it was like a sore on a diabetic foot. The sore didn’t heal and turned into gangrene when George Floyd couldn’t breathe and was murdered on asphalt.
When stores reopened because losses were too great, the church stayed closed while protestors lined the streets, marched, and demanded justice for Floyd and others. Ministers blamed a bishop for staying closed, continued their once a week Zoom ceremony in casual clothes that lasted thirty minutes compared to full pre-COVID services they did in suits, ties, and robes, and they followed the annual sermon list instead of addressing a hungry congregation who needed to hear everything was going to be alright, that injustices would be addressed.
Gene had stopped watching news and watched Zoom sermons from his Hospice bed and told his wife Annie he wanted his service at the church, the place he’d gone most of his life, where he had a circle of friends in Sunday School, where he and Annie had been married, where their two children had been baptized, where they’d gone through confirmation in the youth program, and where they were eventually married after college. Asking for the service at the church wasn’t too much. His asks had always been simple: a piece of Wrigley’s from the five pack his mother kept in her brown purse, a goodbye kiss from his wife when he went off to fight for a cause in Viet Nam he didn’t understand, a prayer from family and friends to ease the pain.
Gene knew they could practice social distancing and wear masks at his funeral, and besides, he realized most he’d known through the years wouldn’t come: the countless members who came only on holidays like Christmas or Easter showing off their new outfits, the community organizations he’d volunteered for through the years instead of giving money like big wigs they catered to, and the employees he’d trained in his thirty years at the electric company who gave him a send-off with white cake and buttercream frosting, a bronze plaque, and a hundred dollar gift card to Wal-Mart. Most of them might think to toss a twenty in the offering plate in his memory and send Annie a sympathy card.
When Gene took his last breath, and the Sunday School circle prayed Gene through the tunnel and into the light, the deacon called the minister who shared that the church was still closed because of COVID, and they’d have to plan a Zoom funeral. Annie said they would not have a Zoom funeral and wondered why they allowed the Kiwanis Club to rent the fellowship hall on Monday and Rotary on Tuesday if the church was closed. Gene had been a simple man, one who served others, but didn’t make a lot of money. He wouldn’t have a room named for him at the church let alone a pew or stained-glass window.
Exasperated, Annie called Gene’s cousin who owned the funeral home.
“I’m sorry, Annie. I loved Gene like a brother.”
“He knew that, Bill, and he loved you, too. We found out the church won’t have the funeral. They say they’re closed even though they’re renting the fellowship hall.”
“That’s strange,” Bill said.
“Well, if people continue to give, I guess they don’t have to open.”
“True,” Bill said. “Annie, we’ll do it here. We’ll just ask everyone to social distance and wear masks.”
Annie asked the deacon from Sunday School to do the funeral service complete with piped in music and green and blue up lighting. The next Sunday after Gene had been planted, the minister did a shortened Zoom sermon, but waded off into tithing because some members of the congregation gathered for a church service at the funeral home and didn’t send in their weekly tithe. The simple group wore masks and sat six feet apart, where they worshipped and prayed for peace in the streets, and like Gene’s service, it was a small one because those who needed it most wouldn’t come to a church service in the funeral home until it was their own.
Niles Reddick is author of the novel "Drifting too far from the Shore", two collections "Reading the Coffee Grounds", and "Road Kill Art and Other Oddities", and a novella "Lead Me Home". His work has been featured in thirteen anthologies, twenty-one countries, and in over three hundred publications including "The Saturday Evening Post", "PIF", "New Reader Magazine", "Forth Magazine", "The Boston Literary Magazine", "Cheap Pop", "Flash Fiction Magazine", "With Painted Words", among many others. Website: http://nilesreddick.com/