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S. Carter Kerr – Reflections on a Funeral

I spent the last few days involved with a funeral for our 8-year old nephew Carter Kerr. He was my brother-in-law’s son and he passed in his sleep last Sunday morning. Now, after the funeral, I thought I’d post a few reflections.

While Carter may have been “special” or “challenged” he lived a life to envy. His father, fearing there weren’t enough photos of Carter to show how he lived, put out the word and asked all who were coming to bring their photos. An army of Japanese tourists couldn’t have matched the mother lode that was to arrive. My wife alone had a stack two inches thick – and that was just the stuff on film. In the end it took a DVD to hold all the scans and video.

This to be contrasted with my mother’s funeral, where for a moment we thought we’d have to have her driver’s license photo enlarged.

Moral: Take lots of pictures. The best are the non-photogenic snapshots that really show the moment. Film is cheap, so are the shoeboxes to put the pictures in. Digital’s even easier.

As I walked the visitation and looked at the various scrap book pages, newspaper articles, and other mementos I was astonished. I didn’t know Carter like a brother, but I had spent a fair amount of time with him when my wife Susan cared for him during the summer a few times. We’d been camping, driven down to Atlanta, and lots of other things and I felt I had known him fairly well.

Nope – this kid was active. One article showed him transferring the last book from a library that was moving. I swear another showed him meeting the mayor. I expected to see one of him saluting Gulf soldiers, or christening new aircraft carrier, or greeting Bill Gates at a benefit. He was loved by his school, was involved in the Special Olympics, and was more of a celebrity than anyone else in the room.

A long time ago, maybe on the first visit to Tim & Peg’s house, I recall seeing a short essay hanging on their fridge. Later it was handed out at the birthing class Susan and I attended before Ginny was born. It was intended to explain what it’s like to be a parent of special needs kid, and it told a story about folks who planned an extensive vacation to Italy but were diverted to strange and very un-Italian Holland. Not to worry though, because it would all work out. As it turns out Holland was a pretty nice place to be and had a lot to offer – maybe even more than Italy. The idea was to comfort parents and assure them that life with their new “different” child was still going to be wonderful. I think it helped the friends and family of such parents far more than new parents – I suspect they don’t needed any such help.

In any case Carter proved the point that Holland beat Italy. Tim and Peg never kept him away from anything, out of anything or denied him anything, and the pictures showed the life of a kid who knew how to live it. Whether it was a stack of pancakes or the beach, he jumped in and didn’t surface until he had to.

I think there’s another lesson for us all: Live life like you eat chocolate – savor it, but devour it.

The visitation and funeral had a huge turnout with hundreds attending. Tim gave a eulogy which did justice to Carter’s life and even made us laugh. Afterward was a beautiful reception, where Tim’s brother Joe had set up a slideshow of pictures and video. Later yet everyone went back to the house to cut down the mountain of food that neighbors and friends had sent.

Sympathy gift tip: There were enough flowers to keep FTD afloat for months. The plants turned their house into a tropical rainforest. Food is better, but when we’d left two full parties of 50+ people had made only a dent. What was needed but not sent by anyone? Beverages. Send beer, wine, soda, cider or anything else wet and drinkable.

If you do decide to send food, tape instructions to the outside of the container because it will most likely be cooked, heated or served by some relative or friend who’s in a strange kitchen and not a chef.

Carter lived a great life and brought joy to everyone he knew. While his death was a tragic loss, his life was worth celebrating. I think that what struck me most was that I expected everything to be very somber. I don’t know why, because after my mother’s funeral we all said it was a shame someone had to die in order for us to throw such a good party. I guess I’d assumed that because a child was involved it would be different.

Now that it’s over, I’m glad it wasn’t.

3 comments… add one
  • Laura Ricci April 22, 2006, 2:45 pm

    I always take homemade FROZEN food with instructions for defrosting and heating attached. At the time there is just too much to use. Later, it is welcome to have a hot meal on hand when needed. If you are taking food to a family with a sick member, be sure it is in small enough portions. Often the whole family is not able to eat together when caring for a terminally ill member.

  • Juli April 27, 2006, 11:25 am

    You captured the moments perfectly…the only thing I would add is spend time with your extended family and the children. Talk to the people who matter in your life and get to know them. Carter’s brief life has shown us that you never know how much time you may have to do so.

  • Pam Vetter May 12, 2006, 2:28 pm

    Thank you for sharing Reflections on a Funeral. I am a Certified Funeral Celebrant who conducts personalized services in Los Angeles. You are reminding families again that every life is important and every life deserves to be celebrated! My thoughts are with you…

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