I received the phone call on Thursday, February 7. Melissa of The Polk County Medical Examiner’s Office called me to let me know they could find no next of kin for Gil. I was asked if I wanted to sign the papers to handle the cremation process. “Yes,” was my response. Once again I was informed that Gil’s body would be sent to the funeral home of my choice. They would contact me so I could go in and sign all necessary paperwork. Melissa patiently answered all of my questions. Dealing with death every day has to callous a person just a bit I imagined, and yet Melissa spoke of Gil with as much respect as if he were a member of her own family.I was hoping that somehow I could still have a Christian service for Gil. I have had some friends mention they would like to attend the service, along with me and my daughters. What had been nagging me, however, is what I would do with the cremation remains. I chose the Westover Funeral Home, as I had grown up living across the street and down a ways from it. It was the same funeral home that handled my Father’s funeral. Within hours Cindy from Westover Funeral Home called me and we made arrangements to meet the next morning.
My appointment was at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, February 8. As I parked my vehicle, I could see the house across the street where I grew up. I walked in to a full lobby as people were gathering for a funeral service. A nice gentleman walked me back to a quiet and lovely room where Cindy waited for me. She recognized me as a member of Plymouth Congregational Church. If I have ever met anyone who was fully and exceptionally suited for their occupation, it would definitely be Cindy. She had the appropriate look with her dark blue business suit…and she had more. She had a soothing and calming voice, kind eyes and empathetic demeanor. She asked me questions about how I knew Gil and her caring seemed to go beyond what her job would dictate. Cindy, too, was concerned about Pocket’s whereabouts and wanted to know if he had indeed been claimed. I was informed that I would be able to view Gil’s body that morning if I so chose. “He has been at the ME’s office since January 22, so I do not know what shape the body would be in.” I knew she was trying to prepare me for what I might see. I declined, as I was afraid whatever I saw would only make me more sad. I chose to remember Gil as I had last seen him with Pocket by his side. The paperwork was next….which really was not very extensive. They had little more than his name, birthdate, SS#, and most recent address. Next I was told of the process of the cremation and how the cremated remains would be turned over to me. It was at this point that I asked about some sort of final service for Gil. I explained that I was not familiar with the laws, rules or regulations which might dictate how cremation remains be handled. Cindy placed her hand on my arm and told me how she was touched by my desire to have a service for Gil and she would provide for me a room at the funeral home….at no charge…..for a service for him. I was in awe. The funeral home was not making any money from me. The amount they would be paid for the cremation was approximately 1/3 what their normal charge for a cremation would be. I was not purchasing a large & fancy casket or anything else for that matter, yet she was taking her time with me and was so helpful.
It was then that Cindy said to me, “Perhaps you could contact Dave and ask him if he would do a service for you at Plymouth Church.” And then she spoke the words that made me the happiest… “you might be able to have Gil’s remains buried in the Memorial Garden there.” Of course…..what a perfect idea! The Dave that Cindy spoke of was David Ruhe, Head Minister at Plymouth Congregational Church where I have been a member for nearly 30 years. Cindy went on to explain that she knows Dr. Ruhe to be a most kind and compassionate man. He has been senior minister at Plymouth for at least 20 years and he is a wonderful and extremely popular minister. I had never considered asking him….but instead thought that I might contact one of the other ministers to see if they would consider having a service for Gil. As in most congregations, everybody wants the senior minister to marry them, or baptize their children or be the one who comes visit them in the hospital. Senior ministers have so many obligations and can’t possibly do it all. And the Memorial Garden, I was pretty certain, was for Plymouth members only, but I felt so uplifted when Cindy gave me the idea that it almost seemed possible to me. I gave her a hug and thanked her for the idea. Then she suggested that perhaps somehow I could find a way to let others know about the service…….the others who had been called by the ME’s office looking for next of kin. Once again, another wonderful idea. She also volunteered to help me write an obituary for the Des Moines Register. She told me she was aware of the container required for burial in the Memorial Garden and volunteered to have the remains placed in such a container. Even Cindy felt as though this would happen. My spirits were soaring and I knew that the Holy Spirit was in that room.
Cindy promised to call me when Gil’s remains were prepared and I would call her to let her know what arrangements I had made. I hugged her once again and told her how much she had helped me and how I appreciated her compassion. Feeling buoyed by my meeting, I went home to call Dr. Ruhe. Unfortunately, he was not in, so I left a voicemail asking him to check his email and set about composing my correspondence to him.
Email sent…..and knowing what a busy time weekends are for ministers, I did not expect to hear from Dr. Ruhe at least until Monday. The next day –Saturday --shortly after noon, I got a call from David apologizing for taking so long to get back to me. Then he told me he was touched by my story, he would feel HONORED to perform a service for Gil and that it appeared to him to be most appropriate to have Gil’s final resting place to be within the arms of the Plymouth family. OK, there were tears in my eyes and the Holy Spirit was at work again. We discussed some of the details…he said he had some ideas for a service….I told him I would leave that part totally up to him….and we both agreed that Cindy is an incredible human being. At the end of our conversation I thanked David profusely for helping me fulfill my wish for Gil. This would be a celebration of Gil’s life.I wish I had a photo to share of the Memorial Garden. The church itself is old and stately, as you can see from the photo. As you look at the front of the church, just off to the left and around the corner, in the side yard, is the Memorial Garden. It is beautiful and green with a small seating area for contemplation. There are beautiful hydrangea bushes close by and the area is canopied by stately oak trees. Gil will have a final home…a permanent home. Cremated remains are placed in biodegradable containers for interment. The intent is to have the container disintegrate such that the remains become a part of the beautiful soil. Gil’s name will be on the Memorial Plaque. This is the Memorial Garden Purpose, as listed on the Website of Plymouth Church:
The Plymouth Church Memorial Garden is intended to be a visible sign of the love of God. Its design suggests the cycle of life which begins and ends in God. In a setting which makes it an ongoing part of the life of Plymouth Church, the Memorial Garden serves as a place for the interment of the cremated remains of members of the Plymouth family. Space is provided for individual meditation and quiet contemplation. The area will also serve as a meeting place for small groups and classes and is adjacent to the east lawn, site of larger group picnics, and other gatherings. Affirming that death is a part of life, Plymouth establishes this area as a living reminder that “...whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:8b)I am thankful for Melissa of the Polk County Medical Examiner’s Office, Cindy with Westover Funeral Home, and David Ruhe, Head Minister of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. I was amazed and in awe of their combined patience, kindness and compassion. I know I have become jaded in life and cannot even make a request for a service call on an appliance without getting frustrated, and yet this whole process fell together as though the pieces were predetermined. Of course they were and, indeed, the Holy Spirit was at work.
Dr. Ruhe & I decided to wait until March for the service, hoping it will be easier to dig in the ground of the Memorial Garden. I will give an update on the service.