If you have hair my color—nearly all white now—you’ll remember this from Bob Dylan and the 60s:
“Come gather ‘round people wherever you roam,
and admit that the waters around you have grown.
And accept that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
and if your time to you is worth savin’
then you’d better start swimmin’ or sink like a stone,
for The Times They are A’Changin’.”
During that same time, when Bob Dylan swung a guitar over his shoulder and took to the road, I was standing (get this) with long red hair down past my shoulders, in a long dress, a baby in my arms, making the peace sign while he sang. Ah, the good old days.
I remember, during those days, a very good woman in my family telling me in no uncertain terms that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a communist. “The dirty communists have sent him in,” she said.
The times have changed, and now we know Martin, along with Bobby and John as another old song sings, were prophets for some genuine and compassionate change coming our way. I also remember that in those good old days there was no air conditioning and no microwaves.
“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is agin’
Please get out of the way if you can’t lend a hand
For The Times They are a-changin’”
Even before 1960, I had heard of an instructor in those changin’ times who fell in love with a black man. She was white. They were grad students at Creighton University. It was against Nebraska law for people of different races to marry. Her brother tried to block their way across the bridge crossing into Iowa; he even called out the sheriff. Being intelligent by nature, they drove two miles and crossed over the South Omaha Bridge. This year their son, a gay man in New York City, will drive with his partner to Council Bluffs and be married in the same courthouse where his still-married parents were wed. Oh, The Times They are A-Changin’”
There are still terrible injustices in the world, but one good thing has remained constant: care for the bereaved, whether hospice or funeral service. You who care for grieving families have served different races, and while I’m sure it may have happened, in the 35 years I’ve been in grief work, I have never heard of a bereavement specialist or funeral director blatantly prejudice or cruelly turn away a traumatized family.
Today we have friends who are mixed race. Single moms in our church have adopted beautiful Chinese babies. A gay couple takes their children to Viet Nam every three years to help them maintain their heritage. Today Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ campus dream for AIDS babies would not be viciously torched. And as Leslie Delp of Olivia House (a center for grieving children in Pennsylvania) says: “We have bigger windshields than rear-view mirrors.” It’s plain we are meant to look ahead while only glancing now and then behind us. Those of us involved in grief work have often led the way by looking out the windshield when it comes to accepting folks for who they are and caring for them.
Now about the only funeral service that draws prejudice, hate and discord is the one for gays and lesbians. Luckily, there too, The Times They are A-Changin’ and as Dylan says, our children are no longer under our command. As one young writer of the younger generation says, “That train has left the station.”
We no longer bury people who have killed themselves outside the cemetery or in the dirt of a crossroads. We know two funeral directors and counseling agencies who served the devastated families of killers, and they treated the family with the utmost care and compassion; so much so in one instance that the family believed for the first time there was hope for them among society after what their son had done. But as Harold Ivan Smith writes in our co-authored book, Partnered Grief, sometimes the times don’t go a-changin’ fast enough.”
Harold writes: “Melodi, 27, had two funerals and two obituaries. A nurse in a loving, same-sex relationship, Melodi died in a collision on a Dallas freeway. Since Texas does not recognize gay unions or same-sex marriage, the right to bury her body and the right to be recognized as “chief mourner,” defaulted to Melodi’s parents who had divorced when she was seven and had differing attitudes toward their daughter’s sexual orientation and her committed relationship. The father refused to honor his daughter’s sexual orientation and rarely saw her during the last five years of her life. He would not agree to any funeral that included recognition of her partner; so Melodi had two obituaries and two funerals. Her partner and mother were chief mourners at one funeral where Melodi’s body was present. On the same day, in a Dallas suburb, her father was the chief mourner at a funeral with an empty casket. Then on that hot Texas summer afternoon, all of Melodi’s grievers converged at a grave where everyone shared the green tent. As rainbow flags fluttered in the breeze and tensions were thick, Melodi was laid to rest.”
“ For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.”
When we bump into hate in a death situation, we often see a counterpoint of good. When protesters began showing up at funerals of soldiers, saying the Improvised Explosive Devices killing them were part of God’s plan because of gays in America, good showed up wearing vests and riding hogs (or other motorcycles) and shielding families and funeral staff from the inhuman hate spewed toward the mourners. They are The Patriot Guard Riders and they are 5,000 strong. If you are a funeral director who is worried that protesters will show up, visit The Patriot Guard Riders. Their website, simple and easy to read, says the only thing you need to be part of the group is respect.
Well isn’t respect what you, the funeral director, the bereavement facilitators, have been showing everybody forever? And haven’t you ridden change into today just like The Patriot Guard rides in and becomes the non-violent Ghandis in bluejeans?
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.
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