Last Saturday I had the honor of officiating at the goodbye celebration (funeral and graveside service) of David Saylor. Before moving to Dayton, Dave grew up in the hills of Kentucky; we’ve been friends since my wife and I moved here 37 years ago.
“Doing funerals” is part of what I do for a living as lead pastor of a large church; I’m sure I’ve done hundreds over the years. Experience tells me the older you live the smaller your “home-going” is. This is because relationships drift over the years, and as David hit 84 years of age, he simply outlived many of his friends and relatives.
Covid has added restrictions to funeral gatherings, so it was no surprise when I held a service at the funeral home for about 18 relatives; it included his wife Vessie (they were married for 63 years!), their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and one of Dave’s brothers and sister in law.
I rode with the funeral director to the small hillside cemetery, and had to smile when we arrived. The graveside service was open to the public, and the place was JAMMED. The funeral director had to drive the hearse on the grass to get the casket to the graveside; he narrowly missed driving between cars on the drive and gravestones close to the winding driveway.
Scattered across the hillside, patiently awaiting the hearse that was over 15 minutes late were scores of men, women and young people…all Dave’s friends. It was a bitter-sweet gathering. As I spoke of the ever-present twinkle in Dave’s eyes, the smile he so freely gave to everyone, the fact that he never met a stranger, and that he made his love for Jesus obvious to all of us, it felt like we were all assembled in a chorus of gratitude that we got to be Dave’s friends during his 84 year journey on the planet.
As we said our final prayerful goodbye, I shared a thought Dave shared with me when I visited he and Vessie at their home the Monday before Christmas. Short of a miracle, all three of us knew that Dave didn’t have long on this earth. Vessie drifted off to another room to “give you guys some time to talk.” Dave and I proceeded to share some laughter and a few tears.
It was a rare and precious moment when I could glean a few final thoughts from this dear friend. (David only came up to about my shoulder when I hugged him, but he was a giant of a man to those of us who knew him.) He told me the secret of a 63 year marriage was determination. “I’m sure there were many times Vessie wanted to walk out the door, and so did I. But you have to ask yourself ‘What am I going to?’ and “What am I leaving behind?'”
The most compelling advice was more about life in general, and was an obvious guide to how Dave lived: “Plan like you’re going to live to be 100, live like you are going to die today.”
I shared this thought on that little hillside cemetery, inviting Dave’s loved ones to savor those words of homespun wisdom, and allow him to positively impact their lives one more time. Whether you knew him or not, regarding your past, present and your future…and in every area of life, it’s good advice to live by. I won’t forget Dave, when he comes to mind. I’ll smile at the memories, and once again try to heed the echo of his words to live by…”Plan like you’re going to live to be 100, live like you are going to die today.”
P.S. If you are one of those who knew Dave, PLEASE feel free to leave a memory or thought about him in the comments below.