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home : opinions : opinions February 26, 2015


11/20/2012 1:11:00 PM
Celebrating a life Montana style
Dale Crisler, Rice Lake

Most letters are written to make a point or argue about something. This letter is not. It is about an interesting, memorable event that happened to me last week.
I was in Montana to go elk hunting and learned of the death of the rancher on whose ranch we hunted part of the time. He was born and raised in the Helmville Valley, where he died. Helmville is a tiny village of less than 100 people. It is truly a ranching area, much like a scene out of "Shane" or "The Searchers." Most everybody knows everyone else who lives in the valley.
My brother Rich and his son James, along with me, knew the rancher and felt a sense of needing to attend the funeral. Rich and I are both in our mid-seventies-we felt like part of the younger set. The church holds about 175 people, but there were more than 300 attending. The pews were all full, as well as the balcony, with people standing all along the edges and at the rear. There was also a side room which was full and some people standing outside.
There must have been 50 old ranchers there with boots and brand new Wrangler jeans on, and many wore black western hats. A couple of them had red-and-black plaid western cut shirts. Many of the ranchers were bent over and walked with a limp. You had the feeling that a book could be written or a movie could have been made about each one's life. The ladies mostly wore very nice dresses with trim and jewelry.
The event was a funeral or, better named, a celebration of life. It was unique. It was simple and yet elegant. It was truly that. Almost the entire funeral was put on by the family. Several grandchildren playing guitars and banjos sang familiar hymns before the funeral started. One son read the Scripture. Then a daughter-in-law sang "Amazing Grace" with a little different twist that left everyone with a tear or two in the eyes.
The eulogy was in two parts, by a son and daughter. The son did a very nice job of recounting some of the happenings on the ranch and the way the father treated other people in his life. The father had made each of the children recite his version of the "golden rule" at bedtime each evening: "Treat others as you would like to have them treat you."
The daughter-I don't know how she was able to speak-gave a remarkable accounting of her life and the family's life on the ranch. By the time she was finished, every person was blowing his/her nose, wiping away tears or sniffling. One story she recounted was that of how her father trained each of his dogs. It is worth repeating because it is appropriate for this season. When the dogs were pups, the father would pull the dog's tail, growl, and say, "I hate Democrats!" Eventually all the father had to say was "Democrat," and the dog would growl. This plan worked for all the dogs except the last one. He tried and tried but couldn't get the dog to growl. In the end, the family decided that the dog must be a Democrat.
A song of farewell was played and sung by a family band to the tune of "Danny Boy," which even included a mouth organ.
When the funeral was over, the crowd exited singing, "How Great Thou Art." The people gathered outside the church, chatted, and watched as eight grandsons placed the casket in the hearse. Then, virtually the entire congregation, walked about two blocks up a rise to the cemetery for the burial ceremonies.
Later, a reception was held in the community hall with food and refreshments. Supposedly, this lasted until about 11 p.m., after which a group retired to a local pub, The Copper Queen.
It had to have been a grand occasion for the family to see the outpouring of support and appreciation for the knowing of a wonderful person. I think all of us would feel mighty good if we each felt that our lives could be celebrated in such a fine fashion.

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