The usher handed me a printed program as I rushed into the funeral home. We were late; Pat was parking the car. “You must be the minister,” the well-dressed man posited. “What?” My mind was trying to make sense of his declaration that sounded more like a question. “Well, I did go to seminary,” I thought to myself as I stared at the usher, wondering how he knew. I opened up the program in my hand; yep, there was my name: Cindy Adcock, Officiating.
Rose had asked me the day before to say a few words at her brother’s funeral. Ernest was my third client to be executed, but my first to have a funeral. I had imagined a small room with a few people saying “a few words” about Ernest. I looked through the open double doors. The room looked like a church sanctuary, and it was packed! I took a deep breath and headed down the hall in search of Rose. I reminded myself of my execution mantra: expect the unexpected and roll with it.
The images of the last few days flooded my mind as I walked onto the elevated platform at the front of the funeral home. Ernest lay in front of me in a flag draped coffin. His family sat in the front rows of the packed house. Organ music was playing. When it stopped, Ernest’s niece, Kristin, rose and began singing a cappella: Precious Lord, Take My Hand. I moved deliberately to the podium, led a prayer and spoke from the notes that I had scribbled in pencil under the blankets early that morning: “We are all more than our worst deed, and Ernest Basden was much more. What I want to share with you today is what I believe Ernest taught us.” I proceeded to share lessons in forgiveness, hope, faith, death and continuing the fight against the violence of the death penalty.
After I sat down, Ernest’s brother James rose and stepped onto the platform. He had been designated the “family spokesperson.” I didn’t know what to expect. He began singing/speaking “Let it Be” in an endearing off pitch manner. “When I find myself in times of trouble Mother Mary comes to me.” Mary was the name of Ernest and James’ mother, who died tragically long ago. James struggled to remain composed, as did I.
At the end of the service, I stepped down, walked to the center aisle and slowly led Ernest’s casket to the waiting hearse. My silver pick-up truck had been designated the lead vehicle of the funeral procession, immediately behind the police escort. “Seriously?” I snarked to my husband. “They killed him and now they are honoring him.”
The long procession slowly snaked through Kinston, finally turning right, just past the Walmart, into the cemetery.
The sky was a clear blue. By the time I reached the gravesite, Ernest was waiting in his casket. As I approached, Rose handed me Ernest’s Bible and asked me to read the marked scripture, his favorite but one I cannot now remember.
After I read the verse, moved by the Spirit I guess, I kissed the Bible and lifted it to the heavens, as if I were releasing Ernest to God.