Last week was exhausting mentally, physically, and spiritually, and I’ll bet I lost 5 lbs. through my tear ducts and another 55 lbs. from exercising my smile muscles. If you saw me, however, you wouldn’t be able to tell because of all the good food I ate which had been prepared by neighbors, good Southern Baptist women, and The Lake (the restaurant at the local resort, Lake Tiak O’khata).
Mom, Dad and I met Darry, Debra, and Lindsey at the funeral home Tuesday evening about 45 minutes before visitation to view the body and give approval for leaving the casket open for the visitation. By all accounts, the mortician(s) did a great job, but I never got close to examine their work. I didn’t want to remember Pop as a lifeless shell. I have a billion terabytes of memories of him that I can forever go to when I want to. The only thing that I did see of his body that I would have changed was that he had clean hands. He needed some dirt under his fingernails and some grease on his knuckles. I even thought about smearing some grease and red dirt on them before the funeral.
We held visitation for three hours before the funeral Tuesday night and the next morning, and in that time, nearly 400 people signed the guest registry for this 90-year-old man. At most funerals for someone of such advanced age, there aren’t usually many visitors to come through the receiving line because the deceased’s contemporaries have already passed on, but there was a line of people waiting to pay their respects that stretched around the room, down the hall, and out the front door of the funeral home the whole time.
Not only were there lots of visitors, but they almost all had a story to tell about Pop, and very few of them just gave the standard, “I’m sorry for your loss.” It was great to hear stories of him in settings I never got to see him in. I heard about him at work, in his Sunday School class at church, as a young man, and also about kindnesses he’d performed while seeking no recognition. I heard these stories from everyone no matter if they were black, white, rich, or poor. It really made me proud and caused me to think about my life, how I treat others, and what my legacy will be one day.
When it came time for the funeral service, the six of us were ushered into a small room set off to the side of the funeral home chapel where I could only see the officiants and the first two rows of pallbearers. I suppose these side rooms are intended to allow those close to the guest of honor to ugly cry with some sense of privacy.
Cousin Grady, who is a preacher as well as our family’s historian, told about his cousin Cecil and the dates when something happened to so and so with amazing precision while reminding us of Jesus’s sacrifice for us and our reward waiting for us in Heaven that Pop was already enjoying. Once he’d finished his part, Bro. Mark, the current preacher at Pop’s church, gently helped Grady to his seat.
Bro. Mark then delivered a masterful, touching eulogy that fit Pop to a T. He took my previous blog post and used it to describe who Pop was and how he lived his life. Of course, every time he moved to a new point, it gigged me right in the feels.
At one point in his oration, he stopped, and as if the thought suddenly sprang into his head, he asked everyone in the chapel who’d been positively impacted by Pop to stand up. I could only see a few rows of people from the little side room, but apparently, nearly everyone in the room stood. It was a powerful indicator as to what a good fellow he was.
After Bro. Mark finished, I felt a wave of calm, closure settle over me, and all I could do was smile at how proud I was of Pop and the legacy he left for me as well as the impact he’d made on so many others. I was going to be ok.
As the pianist was winding up to deliver the music for the last hymn, someone instructed the congregation to sing as the family left. Well, I was at the end of the pew, and the doorway leading to the cars was blocked by flowers, so I spun in circles while the rest of my party tried to figure out what to do. Being the good Baptists they all are, they made a break for the back door and I followed along behind.
As we debated which way to go once we were in the hallway, the sweet lady that worked for the funeral home came out and told us we were supposed to stay in the little room until everything was over. So we slipped back in trying to act like our misguided escape attempt was part of the plan all along.
We made it back to our seats just in time to see the pallbearers placing their boutineers on the casket and to hear Grady delivering the final prayer. There was a threat of rain, and someone made the decision to go ahead and perform the graveside activities there in the chapel. But, as everyone filtered out, the double doors leading out to the hearse were opened to reveal a muggy but dry day. So, the graveside service was back on, maybe…
We piled into our cars and followed the hearse and its support envoy the seven or eight miles to the little Baptist church that Pop attended for the last 70 or so years with no issues except for the guy patching potholes who had to hurriedly pull his county truck off on the left-hand shoulder while we passed.
Pop’s church has a fairly large cemetery behind it with a dirt path which starts in the north end of the parking lot, circles around the back of the cemetery, and comes back out in the south end of the parking lot. As the hearse entered the parking lot, it apparently was going to get in a little mud riding before letting Pop get out. I watched it head off down the dirt path and Darry follow along behind it before deciding I would just go park and wait for them to have their fun without getting my car dirty. Sure enough, a few minutes later, the hearse backed in right beside me since the grave was much closer to the church than the dirt path.
We laughed and joked about how we could just hear Pop saying to the hearse driver as he turned out of the parking lot, “Where in the cat hair are you going?!?” and about him getting to take a victory lap around the cemetery before being laid to rest.
Thankfully, the ground wasn’t wet and I was able to roll out in the cemetery without getting stuck. The last time I got my chair stuck, it literally took a tractor to pull me out and chunks of mud fell off my chair onto the carpet at work for weeks even after spending $5 at the car wash to pressure wash as much of it off as we could.
An abbreviated version of the graveside service was performed, and as Grady was praying the closing prayer again, I looked up at the sky, the slightest breeze wisped across my face, and once again, I felt Pop telling me, “It’s going to be OK, Rob.”
I miss him powerfully from time to time, but I spend most of the time smiling when I think of him because all of my memories of him are good ones, and I have no doubt that everything’s going to be OK.