A Time to Mourn


A story from The Richest Man in Town

A profound sense of sadness shrouded the Martinson home. I dropped by to visit, only hours after Marty had died. Mickey and I hugged each other, and our bodies shook with grief.

Holding her, I whispered, "I'm sorry, Mick."

She said, "I know."

I followed Mickey into the kitchen and we sat down at the table where Marty had taught me so much. Members of their family moved about, not quite knowing what to do.

"We were thinking," Mickey said, "maybe Marty should wear his red Wal-Mart vest in the coffin. That's how most people remember him. What do you think?"

In that instant I couldn't think. I began to cry. Mickey handed me a tissue. In my head I could see him lying there, lifeless, yet strangely proud. My mind's eye seemed to focus on one thing: the name tag bearing "Marty" in bold letters. It would be the same badge I had seen the first time I met him. The thought of Marty's body wearing that vest was so sad, yet so very right.

The funeral was set for a Friday morning at a church in our town. The family assembled in the church basement a half-hour before the service. I was asked to join them as I was to give the eulogy I had promised Marty four months earlier.

"It's time," the funeral director told us. We marched up the steps and followed Marty's coffin, now covered with an American flag, into the worship hall. The church was so filled with people I couldn't pick out any one person.

All had filed past the coffin. He appeared as so many would remember him, wearing the red Wal-Mart vest, the name tag "Marty" pinned on the breast. Then the coffin was closed and, draped with an American flag, brought to the front of the hall.

There was a song, some readings, and another song. The next thing I knew I was standing at the pulpit talking about my friend. I took Marty's advice and took all the time I needed, filling the eulogy with his favorite stories. There was laughter and some tears.

I read from some of the cards sent to Marty when he was in the hospital. I felt it was important to share what other people thought of him.

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V.J. Smith
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