How do you write a blog about a funeral?
I’ve never even imagined doing that. And even when a dear friend, whose husband was laid to rest on the island, offered to share the beautiful photographs another friend had taken of the service – I still didn’t know if I could write it. It was just too . . . personal.
The subject came up when Frankie and I were having lunch last Friday. I knew Frankie’s husband had passed away almost two years ago, but I did not know he was buried on the island. We were talking about the fall photographs I had been taken at the cemeteries last week and how beautiful the trees there had been. And Frankie said, “I have photographs of Darryl’s funeral, and I’d like you to share them with your readers. It’s a part of Mackinac you’ve never written about, and it’s something your readers should know.”
I didn’t know what to say. We walked down to Frankie’s, and she showed me the photographs on her computer. And they were so beautiful, so poignant, so simple – that I said, “Yes, I will try to write this story and make you proud you offered to share it.”
So this is the story of Darryl Thill’s journey to the place he asked to be laid to rest – in a cemetery on Mackinac Island.
There is only one hearse on Mackinac Island, and it is kept in the Carriage Museum. When needed, it is wheeled out of that building, cleaned, and polished to a high gloss. A matched team of horses are hitched, and they pull the hearse to wherever it is to receive the casket. In Frankie's case, her husband's casket was transported to the island on a ferry from the mainland, and the hearse was waiting at the ferry dock.
Friends and family rode ahead of and behind the hearse in taxis. Others attending followed on bikes or were already waiting at the cemetery.
Darryl passed away in October, 2008, only a couple of weeks later than it is now. From the photographs, the trees look further along than they are now, with a lot of the trees having lost their leaves completely. The leaves lining the sides of the road look almost like a red carpet, divided by a strip of pavement just wide enough to allow the passage of the carriages.
Turning at the corner of the cemetery and continuing on the road that would eventually lead to Fort Holmes . . .
. . . and then making the turn into the gate that marks the "new" part of the cemetery.
As the driver stands out of respect, the pallbearers lift the casket from the hearse . . .
When Frankie and her husband purchased the two lots in the cemetery, she had no idea how soon one of them would be needed. She believes that God arranged the circumstances to happen as they did so when the time came, everything would be ready.
As I know you have noticed, the grave is not dug before the casket arrives. When the family leaves the gravesite, the casket remains on top of the ground. Within a few hours, the grave is prepared and the casket lowered into it.
This photo is out of sequence, but I thought it should be last. As the hearse traveled that October day through the golden woods, it passed through a patch of light shining through the trees. The photographer was standing in just the right spot to capture that split second when the sun's rays fell over the casket. It is this photograph that Frankie cherishes the most.
I’ve stood in the cemeteries on Mackinac many times, taking in the silence and thinking, “Where else in the world could there possibly be more peace than here?” There are very few concrete monuments to a person’s life on these hallowed grounds, but man-made monuments are not needed. In the spring, there will be budding trees and gentle rains. In summer, flowers will bloom everywhere. In fall, colorful leaves will drift down from golden trees and rustle across the ground in the breeze. And in winter, a pure white blanket of snow will cover all those who rest here. The serenity of nature is all the monument most of us need – and after all, it is God-made.
My sincere thank you to Frankie for opening this very personal part of her life to my readers. God bless.