The Word of God

The Last Laugh

parked white funeral hearse

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works that God has prepared in advance that we should live in them.”  Ephesians 2:10

The slices of life pared up in any given funeral home are like no other. Apart from being a terribly misplaced oxymoron, one still can ask: why they call them, “homes?”

Perhaps it is because so much drama takes place there just like our own home, but there is probably more to it than that. Consider the life of Mr. Jenkins who managed Bucktrout of Williamsburg, Virginia which is considered by some to be the oldest funeral home in America. Opened in 1759, it began as a cabinetmaker shoppe and to this very day boasts of remarkable service and client care.  For Mr. Jenkins, the funeral home was his home, at least emotionally as he poured out his soul to grieving families and always seemed to act that it was his loss as much as it was theirs.

It was the last funeral service of the day and the week. It was also the final amount of paperwork that the aged and wise director would ever have to complete before his long-awaited retirement. He had done well for himself and his family. His hope was that he might recapture all those moments that he seemed to miss because of the emergencies of so many others. He thought he would get a head start of all the packing of thirty years of memories by going room by room to collect the relics of his past service as an “undertaker” as his wife would often remind him, and to wipe clean the layers of memories accumulated like dust upon the shelves of unread books.

In one particular area of his large and specious office, amidst the couches and sofas that held grieving families and their tears and their stories all these years, there were little spots and interesting gifts from people that would always hold a special place in his heart as he began to pack up and leave that building for the last time, alive, anyway. Some brought sadness to his heart like the teddy bear of the child he helped bury who died of a rare heart disease or the framed high school diploma of the young student who was killed in a car crash just days after graduation, a gift from his parents with the undying hope that he would never forget their son and the family and friends he left behind. It was successful.

One of the last things he had to either pack or throw away was an old set of car keys. At first, he couldn’t seem to remember where they belonged because it had apparently not been used for quite some time. He could tell by the key chain that it had to belong to a vehicle not in use for more than forty years, if then. And then it hit him. It was not from his time as director at the funeral home, but from a time when he first started, and what an overwhelming memory that was. He had to sit down and smile. As he held the keys in his hands, he began to replay that remarkable moment that had become a kind of a fabled urban legend in the area. “What a great life this has been,” he whispered under his breath, and with that small phrase, he was immediately mentally catapulted to his late teen years looking for a job upon graduation. It didn’t have to be much, but something to pay the bills, help him through school, and be respectable. And, of course, to help him move out of his parents’ home to start his new life and the dreams of his youth.

He had appeared at the front office of Bucktrout’s hoping to not only catch a glimpse of the manager but to boldly ask for work. He had put on the only suit he owned, a black one, with a clean, white, well-pressed shirt and the shiniest shoes he could have mastered. He was kind of a tall young man, at least comparatively speaking with the others in his community and so the jet-black hair along with the matching suit made him stand out and was actually quite impressive. It took him more than a couple of tries to get in front of the middle-aged manager and when the chance finally presented itself, he jumped at it like one of the hungry squirrels on the fallen acorns that seemed to teem the park-like surroundings of the funeral home. 

“Sir, sir, may I please have a moment of your time?” was the best phrase he could utter with the limited and quickly closing window of opportunity he had.

“Uh-huh,” came the stereotypically expected response from one whom had garnered the reputation of the classic undertaker as they were traditionally called back then. Solemn, stayed, and certainly no-nonsense are some of the descriptions that could best paint the picture of the scene right about now. 

After seconds of very uncomfortable moments of silence and intense glares, the manager sternly and directly asked, “Can you drive a hearse?”

With lightning speed, the answer came quickly. “Yes sir! I can also wash and wax and clean them inside and out!”

“Allright, Son. We’ll give you a chance. Let’s see what you got,” was the closest sentence that would be offered anywhere close to “You got the job,” that Jenkins would hear and it was certainly enough. In fact, it was sufficient for him to be able to start right then, right there. 

And so the career began. He turned out to be the most energetic and accomplished worker they had seen there in quite a while. Jenkins always arrived early, stayed late, and made sure that the expectations placed upon him were more than adequately met. There was not a whole lot of smiles or laughter around that place, but it did not matter. His paycheck was healthy enough and he was happy to get his life started.

About six months into his new employment, there came one of those big services of a local “big-wig,” as his boss would call them, and all hands were to be on deck and every eye focused on even the most infinitesimally nondescript detail. That included Jenkins.

His orders could not have been any less clear: “Make sure the hearse is filled with gas.” For emphasis sake, this particular instruction had been repeated at least three times and at first it appeared that it had registered. However, the bevy of young ladies who were attending the evening wake services may have played a part in this probably expected scenario. Jenkins found himself the topic of their adulations and attention and as fate would have it, and probably most of our readers suspicions, he forgot to fill the hearse with gas.

The Funeral Mass was as long as it was packed. People from all over were in attendance and finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, it was time to make the arduous trek from the church to the cemetery which in this case was located at least forty minutes driving toward the west. There were at least forty cars in the procession and of course it was one of the hottest days of the summer. Going about fifteen miles an hour, with police escort and many faces drenched with sweat and tears, the nightmare of every funeral director was about to ensue. The hearse ran out of gas. Jenkins who was behind the wheel, turned the palest pale he had every mustered. He immediately sprung into action and was able to enlist a buddy of his, a friend of the bereaved family, to take him as quickly as possible to the nearest gas station to obtain some fuel to complete the journey. That took a painful half hour or so. However, it was not the success he needed. The carburetor had flooded and was not starting the engine. The only recourse they had was to call for a tow truck and after forty-five minutes of waiting in the blistering sun, it finally arrived, and for the first time in funeral history, and probably the last, the hearse was latched up by the portable crane from the back of the truck and slowly pulled into the cemetery followed by a load of very hot, angry and very frustrated mourners.

The usually simple and uncomplicated graveside service started and ended with little fanfare except for the very nervous and even forlorn hearse driver who was literally shaking in his now sweat-drenched black suit. His manager very stealthily and deliberately approached: “That woman soaked in tears and embarrassment sitting over there under the pantheon (tent) is the deceased’s widow. Go, let her know that this was all your fault; you better hope she won’t sue us!”

And there he went, sheepishly oozing his way to the bereaved woman with a suit that looked liked it had been shrink-wrapped around his body and a face that screamed “humiliation” within a tri-county area.

“Ma’am? Ma’am?, excuse me. I am so sorry. All this was my fault. Please forgive me,” were the only words that he could emit with any semblance of dignified comprehension.

The widow looked up at him and appeared to be in a strange daze with an even stranger smile running across her face.

The young Jenkins continued: “I am sorry, Ma’am, all this was my fault. I, I,” was all he could say before breaking down with a soft, sniffling, crying sound.

Apparently the widow had raised a quiver of children herself with her departed husband, strong-willed and well-adjusted men who were also pall bearers that day, which became the needed backdrop and impetus for her most timely response to the young hearse driver:

“Oh, Son, don’t worry. You didn’t know my husband. He was an amazing man, was always in the best of health, and never spent a day in the hospital. He would always tell us, ‘I am so strong, they’re going to have to drag me to the cemetery!”

The elderly Jenkins must have been sitting at the old desk for about an hour replaying that scene and thanking God that he had not been fired. And that was it. Everything was ready to close one chapter and begin another, perhaps the last and he was ready. He laid all of keys on his desk, made one last cup of coffee from the new-fangled Keurig coffee maker that had taken him months to figure out, and shook the hands of the new manager whom he had hired and trained and mentored with this very day in mind. It was late in the afternoon and cars were beginning to line up for a wake service within the hour. He would be home by the time it would start. He started his car but before he could back out of the same space he had occupied for more than thirty years, he spotted a young man spiffy and quite sharply dressed in a dark gray coat with black pants and shoes that probably needed some polishing. At first he thought that it might be one of the pall bearers or family members related to the service set to start, and then placed his car in park and stepped out of his vehicle to see what it was this young man wanted.

“Mr. Jenkins?” the young man inquired.

“Yes, that’s me. What can I do for you?” came the quick response from the nearly fully-retired funeral director as he noticed the beige colored file his visitor was carrying. 

“Mr. Jenkins, I lived here all my life and all my grandparents and even my father have been buried out of this funeral home. I’m starting out my life, sir, and I’m a good worker. Can you give me chance and give me a job, here?”

For a split second, the wise and perhaps most compassionate of most directors you would ever want to meet, did not know whether he should laugh, cry, or just remain fixed on the moment. However, there was really only one thing he could say to fit the moment:

“Can you drive a hearse?”

Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.” Elbert Hubbard

A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life.” William Arthur Ward

Share your thoughts (22 thoughts)

22 thoughts on “The Last Laugh”

  • Patty L. says:

    A great read!

    • Caro says:

      Thank you so much, Patty, for your comments. I am so very glad that you enjoyed our post as did so many others. Have a great week with many blessings for you and all your family!

  • Denise Guerra says:

    In life we all make mistakes. It is how you deal with them that defines who you are. This young man forgot to fill the tank of the hearse but didn’t forget what it was like to be looking for a job when the young man came asking. Knowing full well that experience is a great teacher and more mistakes were undoubtedly bound to happen to the very young, inexperienced young man. We have all gone through some scenario as this and hopefully we turned out to be better people because of it. Thank you for the story.

    • Caro says:

      Thank you for joining us again, Denise, and for offering your insights. Every one of our readers brings new insights and thoughts to the ideas that are brought forth with the publication of each article. What I particularly liked about your comments was the view of the role of experience. It is certainly the best of teachers and when you get right down to it, a kind one as well. I am happy you enjoyed it. Happy days ahead for you always, Denise!

  • Tony Montez says:

    Just last week a young man struggling with severe anxiety, including panic attacks, asked me how I cope with stress as a mental health therapist that works with so many people in distress. I told him I drink (in jest). We both laughed. Then, more professionally, I mentioned the three basics; sleep, nourishment, and exercise. We talked about the phrase “in the fullness of time” as a matter of faith. How God doesn’t need a calendar or clock as the Alpha and Omega. In the fullness of time God created an event. Mary conceived. Jesus was born into the world and roamed the earth. In faith we embrace these mysteries. Our lives is our fullness of time. It’s our time to be born into the world and roam the earth. I told the young man our fullness of time is not an arbitrarily event. Rather, it’s our participation in God’s creation. We’re called to love so we love abundantly. Share. Be open to humor and laugh. I told the young man I seek out comedy. Comedy and humor are important ways I manage stress and maintain appropriate, more accurate perspective. Depression and anxiety tend to involve loss of perspective. So, contribute to what is good in the world through your love and you discover the meaning and purpose of your fullness of time. You’re coping and living more fully.

    • Caro says:

      Dr. Montez! Welcome back and thank you for your thoughts this fine day. After reading your reflection, I immediately thought of the popular notion provided initially by a certain section in Readers’ Digest, that laughter is the best medicine. I know our readership will greatly appreciate and glean long hours of reflection and care with your remarkably succinct prescription of mental health: sleep, nourishment, and exercise. This is indeed the fullness of time partly because we have no other opportunity except the present moment, that is, the real, full, and complete actualization of all things past, present, and future. A healthy, non-mean or vindictive sense of humor draws people together in ways that trigger healthy physical and emotional changes in the body. Laughter strengthens our immune system, boosts mood, diminishes pain, and protects us from the damaging effects of stress. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring our mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hope, connects us to others, and keeps us grounded, focused, and alert. It also helps us release anger and forgive sooner. Who would’ve thought? Thanks so very much, Tony See you next time.

  • Gabriel Gonzalez says:

    Another great read for an amazing and beautiful day god has given us. He intended for us to learn from our mistakes and continue to find a greater understanding of to help us move along in life. I fell with each reading I’ve become closer with him. Thank you always for these beautiful readings.

    • Caro says:

      Yes indeed, Gabe, we must learn from our mistakes. I believe as you do that God must have placed great wisdom in this revelation because when you really think about it, we should all be the wisest people in the universe with all the errors and misjudgments we have made. And so what? Life is great and full of joy if we can learn from every pitfall and failure, we will be the most happy as well!. I am glad that Jesus has a sense of humor. Can’t you wait to share your favorite funny story with Him? And to think, everyone we have ever loved and lost will be there. Thanks, Gabe, you have helped us remember that every time we are able to find humor in a difficult situation, WE WIN!

  • Julie Trevino says:

    God intended us to enjoy the life He gave us and to be happy…mistakes and all!
    Jesus had, well still has, a sense of humor. Yes the young driver forgot to put gas in the hearse but that was the way Jesus fulfilled the dying man’s request…they’re going to have to drag me in to the cemetery.
    Be careful what you as for! I was walking into church one Sunday, after having the hiccups for a couple days. Walking up the steps to the church doors i simply asked “Lord please stop my hiccups while I’m in church.” Lo and behold my hiccups were gone. What releif i felt, I was able to pray and enjoy mass. As soon as i stepped out into the world my hiccups returned…I just had to laugh.
    My father was a talker, always joking around and laughing…always with a smile on his face. He died March 28, 2008. I remember the directors from Seaside picking up his body from our house. As they were putting him into the suburban there was another body that had also been picked up. I said “look! He already has a friend to talk to!”The funeral director said when they layed him in the casket he had a smile on his face. Something they had never seen before. Then his funeral was on April 1st…April Fools Day! Yes, our Lord has a sense of humor and we should all be like Him and enjoy life as it is.
    Thank you for another most enjoyable story. Brought back sweet memories.

    • Caro says:

      That was truly wonderful, Julie, the way you brought some personal examples to help all of us continue to enjoy “The Last Laugh,” and to praise God for all the revelations of a supremely diving sense of humor. I guess we could say that we have plenty of proof that God indeed has a deep sense of irony. I particularly enjoyed the hiccup reference and the accompanying body in the hearse when they came for your father’s body and the smiles that sealed your awesome memories of him. Ironically, Apil Fool’s Day was established for those who do not or cannot see the impending funny nature of life itself while those of us who believe in the Redemptive Act of Resurrection can also smile all the way to the Pearly Gates in the Silver City! Thank you so very much, Julie, for assisting all of us to deepen this day with a smile, a chuckle, and certainly laughing at the world that often wants to rob us of humor. We have won because we have Jesus. God bless you and all your family!

    • Tony Montez says:

      Back many moons ago I had just graduated and in desperate need of employment. It was the early eighties. My mother knew I needed a job and invited me to go with her to mass. I told her I couldn’t afford to go anywhere because I didn’t have any money. She said, “God knows you need money so come with me to mass and pray.” So when we entered the church I prayed and prepared for mass and included my need of money. Then an usher tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would help take the gifts to the altar. When the time came I made my way to the back of the church. When I walked up the usher handed me a basket of money. It made me chuckle, which I’m sure the usher found odd, and I thought God has a sense of humor. I’m glad we’re made in his image.

  • Veronica Altamirano says:

    What a great article reminding us all that if we learn from our mistakes we also share a glimpse of what The Holy Trinity could do for us. With God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit we could show humility, try to correct our mistakes, and make something good come from it. Humility was a part of this last Sunday’s homily and it reminded me that humility is something some of us have a hard time showing. In humility we show that we are humans that make mistakes, but if God can forgive us when we are truly sorry for our sins, we can show a glimpse of his Mercy in the humility we show in a mistake or action we have taken. May we all remember to show humility every chance we are given so we show a glimpse of what God can do for us all. Keep these well written articles coming so we get more examples of how we can always show God in the daily things we do!

    • Caro says:

      Another great insight arrives at our pages today, thanks to you, Veronica! Thank you for reminding us of the awesome lessons from last Sunday’s Gospel and the application to mercy. It is obvious to a great number of our readers that mercy and forgiveness are really something we must pay forward to truly grasp, or at least, attempt to grasp the inscrutable mysteries of life as they appear to us on a daily basis. Merciful people, as you aptly pointed out, do give us a glimpse of what God can do for us as we make our way to Him in Heaven. Thank you very much for taking the time to share these with all of us! “Because of the Cross, God can be both just towards sin and yet mercifully justifying to sinners.” Timothy Keller

  • Gabriel Estrada says:

    I am intrigued how well this story captures opportunities, suprises and twists in life. If we strive to collectively find moments of service, the history of our life will be completed with memories that are passed on with “Love!” Thanks for this gift as I will treasure it in years to come.

    • Caro says:

      In my own experience of helping people with grief, loss, and the healing process of dealing with end-of-life issues, I can truly appreciate your take on the opportunities, surprises, and twists in life. Most funeral directors have seen the entire spectrum of life and love, some all in one day! Let us take this chance at the declining hours of this remarkable month of October, to thank all those who have helped us through the door of grief, especially those directors and went the extra mile to bring us comfort and peace. Thank you, Gabriel. our words will touch many.

  • All I could think of reading this is my late father who passed 2 years ago April. Still seems like yesterday. Its the first large death that I have experienced thus far in my life. My dad was a very hard worker. He often worked several shifts in a row to provide for his family.
    He worked outside as a pipe fitter. Wprking in the brutal Chicago winters. He would come home looking as if he got hit by a truck and dragged for miles. He never allowed it to steal his joy. He loves his family and never lost focus to what was important. At the end of his life he reflected alot on his life and now that he’s gone the world will not remember him, but I will. I will also remember what he did for me, my mother and siblings and the example that he gave us to be loyal, hard working and a man of God.

    • Caro says:

      Thank you, Brother, for sharing these poignant thoughts propelled by some of the most moving memories anyone could have growing up. What I will remember from you sharing is the impact of a hard-working, faithful; and joy-filled father who never lost sight and focus of the treasures in his life, most notably, his family. God bless you, Brother, and thank you for gracing us with your words.

  • Mari Rodríguez says:

    We are all human and all of us at one point have made mistakes. Life goes on and we make the most of life.

    • Caro says:

      Thank you, Mari for your response which reminded me of my favorite quotes from the American poet, Robert Frost: In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on. And so it does, Mari, and so it does. God bless you always!

  • Ron says:

    Every one who breathes is going to make a mistake. How we recover matters as much as the acknowledgment of the error – whether to ourselves or others. We can’t beat ourselves up and stew in regret and misery. We should learn from our mistakes and right the wrong in some cases. This takes courage and humility. In turn, we experience growth and enlightenment, and even forgiveness.

    • Caro says:

      Hello Ron, and thank you for taking the time to respond to our latest offering! Each person takes something different away from our posts and I certainly appreciate the aspect of courage and humility as needed elements in our arsenal of life in dealing with mistakes. You are very right when you say that we all can rest assured that we will make a treasure trove of errors along the way, but not all of us learn from them. The difference, as you pointed out, is whether we grow from them. I hope we all can. Here’s to another day of discovering how!

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.