So, when I arrive for Noel's grave-side service, I meet Marty, the funeral director, who turns out to be a fellow Lutheran. He's a most kind man. Noel didn't have any decent clothes (Noel always wore a flannel shirt and sweat pants) to be buried in, so Marty had purchased some for him. So he showed me the body and then we sat and waited. No one showed.
About five minutes before the service is to begin, a car pulled up and a man and woman got out. They were looking for the Noel Fritz funeral. She was a second cousin, she informs us. The funeral director kindly asked if they'd like to view the body before we began. They said they would and then the woman blurts out: "But that's a man!" Her cousin was a woman, it turns out. Ah, "Noel" can be tricky. I should have known because she pronounced it like the word for Christmas and not like "No-wel." So even they weren't there for poor Noel. They were embarrassed and drove off, and I told the funeral director that Noel would have absolutely gotten a kick out of that!
Come 1:00 the funeral director and I began the burial liturgy and we prayed through it. It was a comfort to have a fellow Lutheran Christian beside me making the responses without being prompted. But I was so sad to think of how Noel's life ended and not a single person came to his burial who knew him except his pastor. I've never, never experienced anything like that. I know we had some members who knew him, and who would have been there, but one had recently had surgery and the other had out of town guests that where coming in the same time.
The funeral director told me that the nursing home staff said the only people to ever visit the poor man were the pastors from St. Paul's on the monthly communion calls and the members of the church who stopped in now and again. I first got to meet Noel many years back. Fred introduced me. I was taking communion to Fred at a shelter care home not far from where Noel ended up being buried, when Fred said: "Pastor, I have a friend here who used to be a Lutheran, and he's not been to church for years and he wants communion. Can you talk to him?" So I made my acquaintance with Noel and he became a member of our church, and since his family had owned the drug store Fritz' in Staunton, we had members who even knew him. For a number of years, he and Fred took communion together. But then Fred moved to a different place, and Noel did as well. And then both moved to still different places. I thought as I drove away what an idiot I had been not to swing by and pick up Fred and bring him. He probably doesn't even know, and I just didn't think about it - it all happened so fast, the funeral already set up and scheduled before they even found out he had a pastor!
Although Noel was never terribly chatty for me, Deaconess Sandy tells me that he talked to her for a good long time. He did tell one of the members of our Christian Life Committee once: "Oh, you're from St. Paul's. I like that little boy pastor who comes by and brings me communion." That little boy pastor. He became my favorite parishioner then and there! :) I tried to bring him communion this last week, but I got there right as he had gone to the smoking room for his regular puff - he was a totally addicted smoker. He said: "I'm going to be be a while, Pastor." That was his way of saying: "Don't bother me; this is important." So I bid him farewell and told him I'd catch him again later. Well, the later on will have to be at the great Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, where Noel will be healed and whole, and the mental troubles that plagued his life will be forever gone.
Rest in peace, my friend. At last, rest in peace.