This weekend I attended the funeral of a man I didn’t really know.
I had met him only once, ironically at another funeral.
When I met him his gentle presence seemed larger than life, just like his stature. He was a big man who made a presence when he entered the room.
Over the last few months he had been diagnosed with cancer and seemed to be responding well to treatment and surgery.
At last report he was on his way to recovery, a long battle, but expected recovery.
Last Tuesday night he died.
While I didn’t know him, I felt compelled to be at his service.
As I entered the funeral home, I was struck by the people of all ages who were in attendance to honor his life.
I meandered and talked with a number of people and reminisced about the life that he and his wife, my second cousin, had created for themselves.
Over the last years, through photos, I had seen the love affair blossom with my cousin and her husband. They lived on a boat in Charleston Harbor and every photo I ever saw of them burst from the screen with smiles from ear to ear.
My cousin had reconnected with her husband some years ago at a High School Reunion. Both of them single, they soon learned that they were soul mates and began a love affair that so many of us only dream.
Standing beside her husband’s casket, you could see that my cousin was heartbroken, but the smile still shown through her pain.
A warm embrace and introduction of her children, whom I had never met, and I moved along to others in the room.
After a final few moments of family time, we all proceeded into the chapel of the funeral home for the service.
A flag draped casket; red, white and blue flowers; a floral reproduction of the boat that my cousin and her husband shared all created a backdrop that was befitting a gentle giant.
The entire service was conducted by family. My cousin Chris,welcomed those in attendance to the service of his brother-in-law.
Chris encouraged us to “listen.” Listen to the stories of a life well lived, laugh when it was funny and don’t be ashamed to cry when warranted, but most importantly, listen.
I did listen.
I listened as grandchildren sang and cried as the refrain from “How Great Thou Art” filled the chapel.
I laughed at stories delivered by a son and daughter who in their grief stood to testify for the character of their father and I cried, as they cried knowing the loss they were feeling.
When a son-in-law rose to deliver the eulogy for a man who came into his life 11 years ago, to marry his wife’s mom, I listened.
In this role, the Pastor spoke of commitment.
He painted a picture of this gentle giant’s commitment to family, country, community and God.
He shared stories of a love and respect of country, both as an active duty and retired military man.
We learned how a love affair for the ages put a smile on my cousin’s face and how they challenged each other, each day and loved until the very end.
A commitment to family included a blended family, children and grand-children were never “step,” but family.
I listened as I heard stories of community service, volunteerism, giving of ones self and a love for fellow-man that should inspire each of us to live better lives.
Finally, I listened as we heard about this man’s faith and the knowledge that we all know where he is now and where we will see him again one day when our time comes to enter life-everlasting.
I learned a lot today as I listened, and in the final moments of a service befitting a gentle giant, one who had brightened the life of those who knew him and provided an everlasting love for one in particular, we sang.
Led by a son-in-law, pastor, we sang “God Bless the USA,” and as we approached the chorus, in unison we stood and we sang together, a moment befitting a life well lived, a life filled with commitment, a life worth listening to.
As I drove away from my loved ones, I couldn’t help but think I wish I had known Hugh Veal. I wish I had known the man whose commitment to family, community, country and God had brought a congregation to our feet in song knowing “that’s what Hugh would have wanted.”
I wish I had known the man who put the smile on his Laura’s face, the smile that is dimmed now, but will shine again with memories of a love for the ages.
I wish I had known Hugh, but today, I listened and felt a bit closer to this gentle giant who touched the lives of those he loved, his community, his country and now sits with the Lord, a life well lived through commitment.