Ask any Appalachian the question, “When is Appalachia most beautiful?” Every Appalachian will answer, “During autumn, when the leaves of Appalachia’s trees are dying.” Appalachians believe the beauty of their landscape is almost heaven. With the honor of officiating nearly 1000 funerals, Pastor Kevin Cain offers life in the midst of death.
In As She Is Dying, Kevin Cain writes, “I have given my life to bring hope to a people who have little reason to hope. Maybe Appalachians have allowed our hills’ majesty and grandeur to blind us from coal dust and addiction. Yet, I do see hope. I see hope in what is dying. I see hope in what is dead. I see hope in what remains. Yes, death has the keen ability to either clear up, cover up or stir up. Still, sometimes we must descend in order to turn into the clouds. As She Is Dying is a book about death that offers stories of life. In these pages, you will find a little bit of wisdom, some stories of hope, and the eulogizing words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart which I trust have been acceptable in the sight of my strength and my Redeemer. Somehow and somewhere in death, hope must be discovered. Maybe, through the literal metaphor of Appalachians’ deaths, you can see life. Some were reconciled long before their deaths. Some were reconciled just prior to their deaths. And, others were reconciled in the midst of death. There is hope for all…hope’s breath, even in death.”
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.44(d)|
About the Author
KEVIN B. CAIN is the founding pastor of Kingdom: A Community Church in Westover, West Virginia, and he is the author of both, As She Is Dying, and the widely read #earlywillirise daily devotional. Pastoring for thirty years in his lifelong hometown has granted Kevin the privilege to walk alongside the new-life journeys of many. Kevin and his wife, Lesley, are the parents of three college-age sons, two Basset Hounds, and one Chocolate Lab.
Read an Excerpt
They Never Close Fairmont Road: Getting Back on the Carousel of Life
The funeral home where I officiate most of my funerals is adjacent to Fairmont Road. Now, Fairmont Road is no Route 66, nor is it comparable to the I-95 corridor, and it certainly is but a thread in comparison to the lanes upon lanes encircling Atlanta. Yet for little ol' Westover, West Virginia, it is our city's only major thoroughfare. It runs from Exit 152 of I-79 all the way to the Westover Bridge that links the west side of the Monongahela River to the east side. Nearly thirty times a year I find myself inside that Fairmont Road-adjacent-funeral-home officiating funeral services. After all these years with all these families and all these circumstances, illnesses and ages associated with death, there is one constant between the funeral home and Fairmont Road: When a person dies, the powers that be never close Fairmont Road. For the families inside the funeral home, everything has come to a dead stop. For the people going up and down Fairmont Road, life doesn't even slow down. Very few people pause for the death of those they do not know. Society and the speed and volume with which it travels does not suffer fools, and it certainly does not pause to acknowledge the dead nor the paralyzing grief of those mourning. In the midst of mortality, life moves both along and on. How are those closest to the deceased ever to merge once again onto life's Fairmont Roads and rejoin the carousel of life?
I'm not sure people inside the funeral home even realize the road outside is still there until the funeral concludes and they emerge from the funeral home with the preacher leading the way and pallbearers carrying the casket down the steps to the black funeral coach whose back hatch waits to receive the vessel that holds the body of the deceased. There is a somberness about those moments, and depending on how closely individuals sat towards the front of the funeral chapel during the service now determines how soon their conversations start and some long-awaited cigarettes are lit. The family and closest friends of the deceased shuffle to their cars with little to no thought as to how they are going to stumble back into life, while the less affected gaze at their watches and consider their least obstructed getaway back to life's quick pace and desired noise. Not everyone who is part of the funeral has signed up to be part of the funeral procession. Those who passed the casket first inside are typically those who drive off first outside.
Life and Fairmont Road is calling.
I always find it interesting that once the funeral procession is about to break the imaginary seal between the funeral home property and Fairmont Road, the traffic on Fairmont Road does not stop, nor does it even politely slow. If anything, when the purple lights atop the funeral coach begin to shine, the cars speed up rather than slow down. There's always a mall, or a gas station, or a home supply store, or a restaurant to get to. Usually there is police escort, and usually a funeral home employee has to risk his own life as he steps into traffic with a hand raised to stop the unlucky cars that did not make it past the funeral home soon enough. This is not the whining cynicism of a curmudgeon. Sadly, it is the sad reality of a selfish world.
The journey to the cemetery is equally frustrating. At each intersection along the route, the funeral director and the preacher who sit in the funeral coach's driver's seat and passenger seat, respectively, must hold their hands up to the window in order for traffic to slow and come to a stop. Certainly, those who speed to make it out before the funeral procession reaches them will be the same ones who will curse the speeding cars on the day their loved ones are laid to rest.
Life and Fairmont Road never closes.
If the funeral and the funeral procession is a holding of one's breath, then reaching the cemetery is to be considered exhaling.
The people stop behind the hearse.
The pallbearers carry the casket to the graveside.
The preacher offers the committal service.
The funeral home employee says, "This concludes our services. You may now return to your cars."
What began a few days ago with the expiration of breath is now over. There is no longer liberty to be without breath. Life must begin again. How are those closest to the deceased ever to merge once again onto life's Fairmont Roads and rejoin the carousel of life?
Years ago I was called upon to perform the funeral service for a woman named Ruby. She and her husband Joe had been married for sixty-three years. He was a World War II veteran, and while Joe was away fighting against tyranny, Ruby signed up to be one of this country's riveting Rosies.
And now the riveter was no more.
The funeral home was empty except for Joe and Ruby's grown son and his wife, and Joe. Very much to the side, I and the father of the funeral director looked on as we granted the three their last few moments before they would leave and Ruby's casket would be closed.
Joe was no longer a young, fighting soldier. He was a gray-haired man who was confined to a wheelchair. I remember Joe's son walked behind the wheelchair with his hands on the handles, but he wasn't pushing. Joe was digging his heels into the carpet and was literally drawing his own wheelchair across the floor, foot pull by foot pull. Tears were streaming down his cheeks, and his nose was in need of a handkerchief. It was a sight of absolute love and absolute loss.
Joe could barely see over the edge of the coffin, yet he looked at Ruby without pause. Joe lifted his hand and placed it squarely over Ruby's.
How long was that moment?
In the midst of it, the funeral director's father whispered to me, saying, "How do you go on?"
Before I could answer the whispering question that had been left in my ear, Joe patted Ruby's hand and said, "I'll see you soon."
I whispered back, "That's how you go on."
Joe died within the year.
Love is one of few things that perfects during times of pause. Love grows as it is filtered through grief. Love grows as it waits for reunion. Love grows as it has nothing to feed on but memories and tears and laughter. It is a bad thing to be constantly gratified. The impatience of the world leaves speeding and blaring society nothing to look forward to. Those who interrupt and selfishly advance are those who are most deeply infected by death's dissection. Yet when a life loves fully and looks forward fully, the speed and volume of life can neither seduce nor deny.
In the midst of loss and greatest grief, slow down and consider. Are you one who believes in something or nothing to come? If it's nothing, then why spend your days grieving until nothing comes? If it's something, then celebrate the achievements while living this absence, and look forward to the perfect fullness of that which is yet to come.
Anyone can speed by. Anyone can ignore. Anyone can cut off or hurry those along, so he can get where he wants to go. Such is the cheap and generic life.
It is a good thing to pause as the world speeds by. It is a good thing to mourn. It is a good thing to pay respect. It is a good thing to remember, to wait, and to live with the hope of seeing soon those we love.
How are those closest to the deceased ever to merge once again onto life's Fairmont Roads and rejoin the carousel of life?
We simply rise every day and with our heels pull ourselves across the carpet, gaze into the eyes of the past, wipe our tears and our noses, pat the hands of our loved ones, and say, "I'll see you soon."CHAPTER 2
Defined by Those We Have Lost
By September 9, 2000, I had been preaching the Gospel for fourteen years.
September 9 is my birthday, and on my first birthday of the new millennia, my always educating schoolteacher mother bought me a textbook of sorts. My present from her was The Book of Eulogies, edited with commentary by Phyllis Theroux. Inside the front cover my mother wrote these words:
You've always seemed to find the right words to eulogize family and friends that bring comforting and joyful memories to those who are grieving. Maybe this book can make your future tasks easier.
Remember at my funeral to have the Koon family (a Longstanding Appalachian family singing group) sing "Lighthouse" and "What a Day." I would also like a soloist to sing, "If You Could See Me Now." Everyone should sing "Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross."
I have grown to understand the need to think about life without one's parents. Initially it is a thought that is much avoided, but over time when faith is sound and we are transformed into those who grieve with hope, the reality of absence is more easily swallowed.
I will miss them.
Hopefully, they won't have to miss me first.
My mother was a bit prophetic. The 400-page birthday present did make my future tasks easier. Theroux's compilation of eulogies, commentaries, epitaphs, and poetry continue to scour the dirty feet of my surrendered heart. Thank goodness, because my calling to minister through eulogy has never lessened. With the growing demand of more and more funerals upon me, the greatest lesson learned from this birthday gift are words from then New York Times editorial columnist, Anna Quindlen. Quindlen's editorial was titled, The Living Are Defined By Whom They Have Lost, and according to Theroux, Quindlen's column received more reader mail than any other she had ever written. Two sections from the editorial will forever shape my approach to funerals.
Grief remains one of the few things that has the power to silence us. It is a whisper in the world and a clamor within. More than sex, more than faith, even more than its usher death, grief is unspoken, publicly ignored except for those moments at the funeral that are over too quickly, or the conversations among the cognoscenti, those of us who recognize in one another a kindred chasm deep in the center of who we are.
The landscapes of all our lives become as full of craters as the surface of the moon ... I write my obituaries carefully and think about how little the facts suffice, not only to describe the dead but to tell what they will mean to the living all the rest of our lives.
We are defined by whom we have lost.
When one who has defined us is gone, we grieve. When grief just lies there as a freshly dug, freshly covered, six-foot-hole, it is difficult to live as one who has been defined. And there the preacher stands looking at a graveside full of people who are broken, and he knows he must tell them that at some point they must merge from this stop of unrestful rest in order to rejoin life. Life and grief are two of the things to which we cling most tightly.
Regardless of the hill or holler, everyone knows harvest is always a product of the seeds planted during the final days of winter's death. Only those who are committed to hunger bemoan the sower who sows seed into freshly overturned, cold ground. So, in the setting of visitation, funeral, eulogy, and committal, someone must assume the role of sower or else most will grasp for the life already gone and cling to the grief they never want to release.
Grief has a right to life, and it must be allowed to live. After grief has lived, it must equally be allowed to die — a dying some call death's death. Still, during grief's life cycle, the grieving must acknowledge how they have been defined by the one whose loss they are mourning. Acknowledged definition permits grief to be an agent of both healing and propulsion. We heal, and compassion is birthed where grief once stood. Grief's remembrances propel us towards definition and new days. New days, where the defined can now continue with defining, until the days when others will grieve and another preacher will say, "We are defined by those we have lost."
Life. Defining. Defined. Death. Grief. Healing. Propulsion. New days. Such is the necessary cycle that must continue until reconciliation is without foe.CHAPTER 3
Too Young To Be Dyin'
I wonder how many times I have uttered the phrase, "Too young to be dyin'."
Burying parents' children is the most crushing ministry any preacher is ever called upon to do. No matter the words, they could not ease the pain of laying a child to rest. In the midst of the greatest agony, preachers are asked to bring a reconciling balm to a torment we most likely will never personally know. Yet we must. Through shoulders, arms, ears, and the abundance of our hearts, we must provide the compassionate compress to stop the flow of a bleeding heart.
I can remember as a child seeing in my grandparents' Morrison Avenue home a picture of a pretty, blonde-haired girl. She looked to be about eighteen, and she was wearing a light blue dress and pearls. I asked my granny to tell me who she was. Granny said, "That's Dorthy Ellen. She's our daughter. She died in a car crash when she was just a girl." Years later I learned the story of my aunt Dorthy Ellen's death. It's still too painful to share. To this day, my mother tells me that after the wreck my papaw should never have asked to see her. He was a brilliant man, but also an alcoholic. Liquor, not beer or wine. Seeing his daughter dead and in that bodily condition only made his interpretation of his own brilliance more futile and his alcoholism only worse. So, long before I was a preacher, death invited me to the gathering of those who had been hazed into the fraternity of parents forced to say, goodbye to their children.
It is important to once again hear that truth.
When you are not the parent you may feel pain, but it is not a parent's pain. Those who find themselves outside of parental anguish but inside the circumstance of childhood death, the best any person can do is through silent presence, wait to be asked to help.
And so I've tried.
During my sophomore year of high school, I took my first experiential steps towards childhood death's door. His name was Paul. He was the same age as my sister, Keely. I was two years younger than they were, but I had watched Keely go to school with Paul from Morgan Heights Kindergarten to Westover Elementary, Westover Elementary to Westover Junior High, Westover Junior High to Morgantown High School. They were seniors now, and they were finished with classes and just days away from graduation. Paul was always so nice. He reminded me of an oversized Winnie the Pooh, but his coloring was not oranges and reds; instead, he was blues and grays, like Eeyore. He was quiet and kind. I always liked Paul. Before he heard Pomp and Circumstance play, before he crossed the platform and transitioned his tassel from one side of his cap to the other, Paul drowned in the backwaters of Cheat Lake. If I remember correctly, he was trying to save his girlfriend from drowning. She died too. I never met his parents, nor did I meet hers. I know all four still hurt today.
I hadn't even made it out of high school when I met Sam, a little-leaguer at our local baseball park. He got cancer. My friends and I were teenage umpires and powerless to help. At that age, we couldn't even get the strike zone right. As dust-covered teenage umpires, how could we ever provide support to Sam's dad and mom? Sam died. I still see his dad from time to time. I still don't know what to say. He hasn't asked me to say anything yet but we always talk, and he is always kind.
At that same baseball park was a junior high kid named Jimmy. He was annoying and always around. We were eighteen. He was twelve. Honestly he could have disappeared and we wouldn't have even noticed. But Jimmy kept asking me if he could umpire. Truth be told, I didn't know what I was doing any more than Jimmy, so putting him on a field to umpire the bases for six- and seven-year-olds couldn't do any harm. I don't think my buddies even noticed, but there Jimmy was in all his umpiring glory. A twelve-year-old with the big boys in the eighteen-year-old's umpire's office; Jimmy could not have been happier.
Well, we all retired from the baseball park after a couple more summers, and Jimmy took my job as field director of WESMON Little League. We were now in our twenties. Jimmy was now driving. He was diagnosed with cancer not long after. He fought and fought, but Jimmy died too. On the day of his funeral, I sat in the back of the room. His grandfather preached his funeral. There were so many people there. I just remember thinking, How's Jimmy's grandfather getting through this? Jimmy's grandfather was an old preacher from a backwoods church in Southern West Virginia. He held it together until he said his final "Amen." Then Preacher Phil turned into Jimmy's granddad once again. In tears, he collapsed into the arms of his family. Now as a preacher myself, I often find myself in the graveyard where Jimmy is buried. Every time I am in Arnettesville Cemetery, I stop at Jimmy's grave and pay my respects.
And so it goes. Deeper and deeper into ministry I travel. There are more and more, more and more. I just keep saying, "Too young to be dyin'."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "As She Is Dying"
Copyright © 2018 Kevin Cain.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Brief Introduction: My Story of Appalachian Eulogies xv
A Little Bit of Wisdom 1
I They Never Close Fairmont Road: Getting Back on the Carousel of Life 3
II Defined by Those We Have Lost 7
III Too Young To Be Dyin' 11
IV Will You Show Me to the Door? 19
V Death's Pilgrimage 29
VI Something to Cry About 39
Tales of Reconciliation 43
I Get to Your Altar 45
II Gotta Suds Up 49
III The School Bell of Reconciliation 55
IV A Ten-Year-Old's Hope 61
V And Forrest Walks with God 69
VI Burying Insert Name of Famous Musician Here 75
Appalachian Eulogies: The This to Be Remembered 83
I A Mother-in-Law and Her Daughter's Husband 85
II Hope for One Addicted to Heroin 95
III Duplexes and D-Day: A Love Story 103
IV Who Is My Mother? 109
V Murder of a Good Boy 119
VI Why? 125
VIL Needle Fall Down 139
VIII Ordinary Folk … Extraordinary Lives 149
IX "I Forgive the Man Who Killed My Son." 165
Epitaph of Reconciliation: It's Never Too Late 177
A Thought as You Step Back onto Life's Carousel… 181