What a beautiful, sunny day to celebrate the life of my dear Aunt Juanita! Our trip to Goodlettsville, Tennessee, was uneventful and quick. We were there for the visitation and then the funeral. At the visitation, I renewed acquaintance with many cousins and enjoyed talking to eight of my NINE aunts and uncles.
Uncle L.D., 96, was all over the place, chatting with everyone. His hearing is poor, but he loves to talk and to get smiles and hugs. His wife, Aunt Bettie Ruth, 91, gave me a tight hug even though she was using her cane. (She babysat me when I was little, so we have a special bond.) Uncle Jimmy, 91, mostly sat and let people come to him. Wei, 64, his wife of 37 years, was at work. Aunt Mina, 85, had just lost her husband, age 91, in September, so this second death of a loved one was especially hard, but she was still herself. She introduced me to her cousins that I didn’t know and was generally hosting everyone.
Aunt Deba, 84, was meeting and greeting as well, looking as beautiful as ever. (Aunt Mina said, “You and Deba are the only ones here in a skirt!” Whatever that observation was supposed to mean. Later I saw that cousin Donna wore a skirt also.) Aunt Deba played the organ for the service there at the funeral home. Her husband, Uncle Tommy, 84, always garrulous, reminded me of how my grandfather was always telling stories whenever he could grab an audience. (So in that way she married a man like her father…) Uncle Wallace, 82, just kind of stood around because he’s never been as sociable as his sisters and his wife, Aunt Jackie, 80, who was also hosting and had organized the food afterward.
I won’t go into all the first and second and third cousins I met, all the cousins once or twice removed, all the friends and neighbors. You’d think that when a 97-year-old woman dies there would be few people at her funeral, especially when her only child lives four hours away. Not this one. There was a crowd, both at visitation and the funeral. Most were older than I am, or so it seemed. But since my grandfather had 11 siblings and many of their children still live in the area, several of her first cousins were there. (Yes, there was an abundance of walkers and canes with the visitors.)
Steve did a great job conducting the funeral. Annelle asked him to read a tribute to her mother, and here is my favorite part:
Mother and I shared trips to Great Britain and Scotland in 1979 and 1997. During the latter trip to Scotland there was an event which truly shows my mother’s stamina, determination, and independence. Our tour arrived at the Corrieshollac Gorge on a beautiful but cool Scottish day. Our tour guide stated that the swinging bridge we were viewing was 200 feet above the bottom of the gorge. He invited us to cross the bridge and then climb the 100 steps up to the top of the opposite side of the gorge and the bus would pick us up on that side. Many in the tour decided not to accept that invitation. I asked Mother if she wanted to do this. She replied, “I didn’t come all this way to sit on the bus!” When we got off the bus and approached the bridge, the tour guide told us that only two people were allowed on the bridge at one time and that we would find the bridge was constantly buffeted by wind. Then he asked who wanted to be the first. Before I could turn to confirm that Mother still wanted to cross the bridge, she stepped on the bridge without looking back! She had on a bright red jacket and I can still see her moving at a steady pace across that bridge! Others followed two at a time and at one point, one of the group asked me where my Mother was…. I pointed up — as she was already at the top of the 100 steps — a standout in her bright red jacket. She would turn 77 three weeks after this adventure.
That story was a great illustration of my Aunt Juanita’s spirit.
Then we headed out for the cemetery, just a few miles away. A most touching thing to us was how ALL the oncoming traffic pulled over to the side of the road when they saw the white hearse and the procession following. A whole row of school buses—maybe 5—pulled over until we passed. What a special lesson to the children on those buses! Respect people, respect death. When we got to Aunt Juanita’s house, the hearse stopped for a few seconds, then proceeded. My cousin’s wife Mandy said she pointed all that out to her teen daughters, so that they could learn how to show respect for a funeral procession.
At the cemetery, after a scripture reading and prayer, came the second most touching moment of the day—a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace.” So appropriate for our Scottish roots. It was lovely.
My heart was touched, seeing Annelle surrounded by her two sons and their wives. (Her husband has cancer and was unable to come.) As Annelle said in her tribute, her birth [with a cleft palate] brought unanticipated challenges for her parents, but because of the way they handled her situation, she never felt handicapped in any way. Her husband brought with him to the marriage two precious little boys who claim and adore her as their mother. They are now in their thirties.
Afterward, we returned to Aunt Juanita’s home for a feast provided by the family, organized by Jackie. Since she’s only eight years older than I am, I’ve never actually called her “Aunt.”
We wanted to contribute to the meal, so we stopped at a Publix store to pick up some fried chicken. I always forget that down there the bag boys take your groceries out to the car, but it was a nice thing to experience, for a change. As we walked, he asked if I’d had a nice day. I said it was fine, but that I’d just been at a funeral.
He said, “I worry about my grandma. I don’t know how much longer she’ll be with us.”
I said, “Oh, I’m sorry. How old is she?”
“Oh. Has she been in poor health?”
“Well, she has a hard time getting up and down sometimes.”
So I, at 72, got a huge kick out of that. I wanted to reassure the young man that she could have many more years, but I didn’t have time. He’ll learn. He was just trying to relate to his customers.
We had a quick four-hour drive home, dissecting and rehashing the day as we traveled. A few snacks, of course, after our delicious family food had settled.
I feel sorry for people who have no family. Not everyone has to have one as huge as mine, of course, but we all need that feeling of belonging. I’m grateful that God set up a plan to provide families for everyone, even if they aren’t born into them. We can be born again into God’s family, the church, and I love my church family and the feeling of belonging there as well. God just really has a ton of good ideas!
Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. Hebrews 2:11