This past week I was in the Pittsburg, Pennsylvania vicinity for my close friend Keith Genest’s funeral. While funerals are often thought of as somber occasions, I decided it felt more like a celebration of his life instead, and maybe that’s simply because so much of the service itself was far different than any other funeral I’ve ever attended.
Right off from the onset, sitting there in the very large and extremely modernized St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Lower Burrell, waiting for the service to begin, I was amazed at how the inside of the building reminded me more of a fundamental Christian church given its huge half octagon set of pews, a hefty section for the choir and live band, and the massive video screens that hung over the pulpit area showing pictures of my friend Keith on them grinning and holding an extremely sizable Dunkin Donuts coffee cup.
It didn’t take long for me to see that this funeral was going to be far different in a good way, shortly after sitting down, when a gentleman kicked things off by singing “I Can Only Imagine”. I got a ton of those spiritual goose pimples during it, because wow, could this man sing and move the masses! Not too long after he finished, I was pleasantly surprised that the first reading was taken from The Book of Wisdom, which is from the Apocrypha. For those who don’t know what that is, the Apocrypha contains a set of controversial Biblical books that are not included in the versions of the Bible that most churches use these days. I have to admit, I found it kind of funny watching people squirm in the pews around me, scratching their heads, and asking each other what the Book of Wisdom was. If they only knew just how much more knowledge was beyond those standard pages of the versions of the Bibles they normally read, I think their minds might actually explode!
I was so thankful that Keith’s sister Michelle asked me to do the second reading, which came next and was taken from a chapter in 1st Thessalonians. Although it was a passage from those standard versions of the Bibles most people read these days, it still nonetheless was an interesting selection to read and pleasure to enunciate, mostly because it included a reference to the archangels, something people often forget exist.
I think I was most impressed though with how the Priest handled the main part of the service, as his message was not the usual boring one that I always seem to hear at funerals about how the person will be missed and blah, blah, blah. Instead, he shared a story titled “Five More Minutes”, which was about a kid and their father hanging out at a playground where the kid kept asking for five more minutes to play and the father kept on granting it. When asked by another parent in attendance why he kept doing that, seemingly giving the kid full control, the father simply said he’ll never have those five minutes again and soon the kid will be off in college, never to be seen on that playground again. The Priest correlated that to how Keith was, and how Keith up to his very last breath gave the most to those he spent each of his five minutes with. Ironically, I’m not sure if the Priest really even knew Keith, but that truly was how Keith lived his life with anyone he spent it with.
I must say that the most moving part of this service came right after the sermon and was something that hit my heart quite deeply. It was when the same gentleman who sang “I Can Only Imagine” sung “Ave Maria.” I felt so much of Keith through every inflection that came out of his voice. His vibratos moved me so much that I found myself looking around the pews to see if maybe the veil might drop for me somehow where I could see Keith sitting nearby smiling at me like he always did whenever we were together.
When it came time for communion, although I know I’m not supposed to do it in a Catholic Church because I’m not Catholic and also because I’m gay, I did it anyway, because I believe Christ welcomes everyone to the table. And honestly, I’m glad I did. Because the prayer I said afterward kneeling on that bench, as I slowly took the last bit of the bread of life into my body, stirred my soul with great tears of joy and love for my dear friend Keith who I will always miss.
The closing eulogy was a fitting end to a funeral that never really felt like a traditional funeral from the start. It came from one of Keith’s old government bosses who spoke with zest and invigorated zeal about how much Keith made an impact in his life and everyone else’s on his team. The “Gentle Giant” he described Keith as was totally spot on, as Keith would never hurt a fly and yet his 6’6” stature and booming voice usually seemed to intimidate just about anyone at first glance.
After the service was over, I didn’t find myself crying tears of sadness, like I normally would at funerals of past. Rather, the tears that fell were ones of joy where I was reminded of how blessed I am from having had a 20-year friendship with a guy who always stuck by my side no matter what. Touching his urn of ashes and staring at his picture next to it before I left, I said my final goodbyes and asked for Keith to wait for me in Heaven so that I may get one more huge embrace from him again.
So yes, Keith’s funeral felt more like a celebration of his life, instead of a typical somber occasion, and honestly, it’s my deepest hope that when the day comes for my passing, that the service held on my behalf will end up being hopefully equally as uplifting as this one most definitely was…
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson