Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Birthday and a Funeral

The woods coming alive today were glorious. Multitudes of white dogwood and bright redwood blossoms decorated the roadside woods thick with tall trees with pale green baby leaves. The light rain seemed as if nature was recognizing the sadness as we drove through the country to reach Cobden to attend Gerald’s cousin Paulie’s funeral. These hills and valleys to his cousins’ area of Union County are definitely one of my favorite drives, and the glimmer and the mistiness of water drops enhanced the beauty of the woods.

At 86, Paulie had a long life and a good life in these beautiful hills. He had always worked hard to rear his family, but he also enjoyed life. Even after the cancer came a couple of years ago, we were told that he continued laughing and joking. When we visited him and his wife Stella last summer, he told us he was not in pain. More recently, however, we had heard the pain had increased. It was time for him to go to a better place.

His two older brothers, Roy and Troy, are left behind, but they too are experiencing health problems. Gerald visited Roy, the oldest, in the nursing home the day Paulie died. But Roy was at the funeral today. Paulie’s sisters Charlene and Patsy passed a few years ago also from cancer, but his youngest sister, Wilma, defeated cancer and was sitting there by Roy with one of her daughters and her children today. They had Roy smiling and enjoying himself being with loved ones, and they looked as if they too were enjoying this oldest special uncle.

The funeral home was already full when we arrived a half hour before the service began. Gerald let me out and finally found a place to park before he too came in to start greeting his many cousins and their descendants mixed in with all the family’s many friends. After speaking to the immediate family, we started back through central aisle through the crowd when Gerald’s brother Keith waved that they had two seats for us. (I think that happened because his cousin Judy’s husband kindly went back to sit in the lounge area at the back, but we were grateful. I enjoyed visiting with Judy and her sister Barbara, whom I rarely get to see.)

Paulie and his siblings, except for Patsy, were left motherless when Roy was just eight years old, baby Wilma was only eleven days old, and the other three in between. It is difficult to imagine how they all survived and even thrived despite the Depression and its challenges in addition to their mother loss. Later Uncle Lowell remarried a widow with several children, and then Patsy was born. This family of his, hers, and their child always seemed to greatly cherish each other. Step siblings were at reunions when possible and come long distances to be at Troy and Bobbie’s annual July family gathering under their huge maple trees.

Yet despite this successful victory over adversity and the fact that these long ago children grew up to have strong senses of humor and abundant love for one another, the sad story of their mother who had a stroke during pregnancy and another after giving birth was told yet today as relatives talked before the service began. This grief was always part of the fabric of their lives.

The service began, and Paulie’s daughter Brenda sang a beautiful song, which I had never heard before but which set the tone for realizing that death can be a good thing. The new pastor of Paulie’s church gave a very comforting sermon, and though he had only known Paulie a few weeks, he communicated well Paulie’s jovial nature and his deep love and respect for his wife. And we felt the joy and assurance that Paulie had passed to another dimension in the forever life with his Savior.

We drove back through the rain to the farm exalting again in the spring beauty around us. It was the second time Gerald had driven home today from Union County. Gerald and his brothers celebrate birthdays with breakfast together, so early this morning Gerald drove down to Jonesboro on his 82nd birthday. He met up with Keith and his son Tim and with his brother Garry and his wife Ginger to start the day with a meal together. Garry had a doctor appointment in Cape Girardeau, so he went to the cousin’s visitation early since he could not attend the funeral.

I had another morning appointment and could not go to the birthday breakfast this year, and I also represented us at a morning funeral visitation in Marion for a member of our church. Last night I gave Gerald his card and present knowing today was going to be more crowded than we’d have liked. But cards and calls today let him know he was loved, and we will continue celebrating through the weekend.

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