a candle for Eric

It's been a week since Eric Iliff's funeral. I am part of that cloud of witnesses who continue to struggle and reflect over his death and its implications.

Here's the story of how I ended up at the funeral--a stranger among the mourners:

A week ago, I headed out to Burbank to make an "addendum" confession. In the car, I called Amber for my daily dose of her (if you've read her blog, you can imagine why I need her so). She told me that our friend Rachel was headed to Eric's funeral in Normal. This conversation intensified an earlier desire to go to the funeral, although I did not know Eric or his family.

I wanted to be there for reasons I can not articulate completely. I ache for Eric, for his family, and for everyone who is struggling now. And although I don't know the family, we are all family in the Church--even those of us who don't know each other yet.

By the time I arrived in Burbank, I had begun to formulate a plan, and Fr. John had given his blessing for me to make the trip with Natalie while he cared for Anna at home. There were, of course, a few small details I had not yet figured out.

"You see, I'm not exactly dressed for a funeral," I said glancing down at my jeans and red sweatshirt, after I'd arrived at the rectory. "Well," said Miriam, "Perhaps we should go up and look through my closet." I found a red sweater and black skirt that fit nicely. When I was changed and ready, Fr. Luke arrived with directions he'd printed out from mapquest.

On the long drive up, I conversed with myself about what the heck I was doing. If I had to turn in a comment card for myself, I'd surely write, "Seems to be getting a bit crazier each day." And yet I felt magnetically drawn to the funeral, and this feeling, irrational and unexplainable as it was, only intensified as I drove.

I went through a mental checklist: Computer? Check (I was on deadline for an article). Powercord? Check. Extra diapers and clothes for N? Check. Sling? Check. Toothbrush and paste? Mmmm. Wallet? Oh, I hope and hope it is somewhere in this car. The nagging fear about my wallet tugged at me on the long ride through the infinitely flat cornfields.

And then Rachel called to tell me that she was stuck in Pennsylvania because of a blizzard (all flights out of NYC were also canceled). She said that the other two carloads of seminarians would be driving all night to get there. What else can go wrong? I asked myself as I started to lose courage.

When I finally arrived at the funeral home, I began to see the rightness of being there. During the Panakhida a lady glanced at Natalie in the sling. "A baby," she said, "There is hope." Natalie did not seem to understand that one is supposed to be solemn at a funeral, and she cooed and gurgled while everyone wept around her. After the service, Fr. James Ellison checked me into a hotel and I wrote him a check (saving the day for the wallet-less me).

In the church parking lot the next day, I was shocked by the amount of cars in comparison to the shoe-box-sized church. I opened the door and could barely squeeze in with Natalie in the sling. We were body to body, all these people who loved Eric and were shaken by his death. I spotted Deacon Alex right away, with Josiah at his feet, and then I saw Nathan, eyes bloodshot from the all night drive.

Fr. John was in white vestments, and the choir was singing words that didn't always fit perfectly. A little later, Eric's picture tumbled to the ground, and it was swiftly picked up and kissed as if it were an icon. Through tears, Fr. John spoke about the darkness we were in. "But in a few short weeks," he said, "It will be Pascha, we will light our candles off of each other and the light will spread."

At the end of the service I made my way up to the family. I thought about Nate Schroeder's funeral, a little more than a year ago, also in central Illinois. I remembered how most people kissed and touched Nate. I wanted to kiss Eric's casket. I was afraid, though, because I knew he had died violently. And then I remembered about the cross and how our Lord had died violently as well. I stepped forward, then, and kissed the casket. As I made my way toward the family, I saw Julia, with Esme in her arms, bending over Eric, her lips brushing the lid of his casket.


Ser said...

I love this post, Jenny. First, the title is lovely, because that is what this post is--an offering from you for Eric. That is why you needed to post it. This is what it contributes.

I also like how you talk about bringing Natalie to the funeral. A baby at a funeral, though it does seem incongruous, is a good and right thing. I remember when Craig went to his aunt's funeral (who had died suddenly of cancer) and took three-year-old Luke with him. I wasn't there, but I just know Luke asked inappropriate questions and played spiderman during the solemn moments. But somehow his presence was a blessing, Craig said.

So this is all to say that I'm glad you decided to re-post this.


Jenny said...


Thanks for your kind words! Amber found that awesome image of the candles, and from that image, the title seemed to flow naturally.

I love you.


Ser said...

I love you too, Jenny.

I also wanted to say that it was really fun to read this post after having read the first one, because I got to see some of your creative process--how you changed some things (the bad breath part) and left others (the part your husband took too literally.)