Funeral for a Patriot

The American flag had high visibility at Uncle Howard’s funeral in Memphis. The day began for us as we drove by the public school where he was involved with the students and teachers. For years he timed his daily walk to coincide with the arrival of the walkers whom he greeted by name.  He gave his eyewitness account of the bombing of Pearl Harbor over 300 times to school groups in the area.

091415 (1) Sign at Snowden School

The first thing I noticed as we approached the church was the array flags. You could have covered a battleship with them! Not only were flags at the front, but they also lined the side walkway. At the back, where most people entered, the flags had human attachments! Patriot Guard Riders stood there holding large flags from noon until 3:00. These bikers escorted us to the Memorial Gardens and again stood holding flags as the coffin was carried in for the ceremony.

I took a photo of the inside of the church before the crowd came. Almost every picture has a companion thought of “I wish I had taken…” The sanctuary was almost half full, but because I was treated as family, I couldn’t get that shot. A hint to the number of people expected was their having two or three guest books for attendees to sign.   Howard was dressed in his uniform, as requested, and the casket was closed before the service began.

Although Howard was not blood kin of Freddy’s three children, he was their paternal grandfather in every other sense of the word.  These young people are interesting, poised, and articulate. I wish you could have seen how they mingled with guests, talking with them easily, making introductions, and helping the infirm, of whom there were many.  If our country were made up of young people like these, we old geezers would have no worries about the future of the US.

We didn’t expect to see anyone we knew, but our classmate Jan came through the door. There ensued a mini college reunion. Jan had played her violin for our wedding 51 years ago, but more to the point, she had visited Howard every couple of weeks for the last few years. Howard made a point of knowing every Snowdon person who passed the corner of the school, and Jan was the guidance counselor there. Somehow Howard made the connection that we knew Jan, and he invited her to meet us in his apartment in 2004.

091415 (15) John Jan Lowi Horne
John and Jan

Inanimate (in-anne-imate) objects speak to me, how I don’t know. There were roses lined up on a table in the church entrance, and they wanted me to take their picture. In due course, the roses rode the lapels of the pallbearers and were left atop the coffin. They marked Howard’s journey from the church where he spent half his life to his final resting place.

Celebrating Ron

We had a neighborhood carpool for Ron’s memorial service, going together with Shawn, Bob, and Logan. If there were themes for funeral gatherings, this would have had several. Neighborhood groups would be one. During the fellowship meal we met Mary and Tom again and were introd091215 After Ron's funeral (3)uced to others who had lived on the street with Amy and Ron in Clemmons, NC. To hear them tell it, their lives looked like a TV situation comedy with lively children flowing in and out of all the homes. They had impromptu meals and cookouts, sharing the joys and struggles of daily living. They’ve scattered now, but the bonds are as strong as ever.

The family theme was uppermost. Half the church was roped off for family members! The service began with Ron’s grandson Paul carrying the wood cremation urn to the front. I wanted a photo of Ron there among us, but it seemed disrespectful. Ron was enough of a renegade that he might have winked his approval. The family members filed in together, fully filling those reserved pews. I recognized almost half of them and saw family resemblance in many of the others. Granddaughter Amy Elizabeth sang from the pulpit without any accompaniment. She was amazing. What poise she had! Everyone was proud of her, with good reason. Amy and Ron’s son Rob gave the eulogy. It was an emotional time, but Rob knew everyone there was fully supporting him.

The third theme was the outpouring of love from the members of the church. The musicians sang and played the music Amy picked out. Pianist and organist sang a duet. They had guitars, a violin, and bass playing enthusiastically. Everyone was invited to the fellowship hall to greet the family and eat a meal together. What a feast! Church groups are noted for good food, and this church was in the South where home cooking is an art.

I would have loved to watch the slide show on the monitor. Someone put together many photos of family events that showed Ron in the middle of family activities. Ron’s urn was there, so we captured him respectfully.

091215 Ron at the center

The Jeep gave us an excuse to chat with granddaughter Anna. A tire was visibly soft when we were ready to leave. Anna talked with us while the compressor chugged away. We were late picking Dennis up from work, but he was waiting patiently.

As I was writing this, the voices of the family came floating up the hill from Amy’s house to ours. The public service was over, and the family love flowed on.

Neighborhood Watch

Our neighborhood watch had nothing to do with crime. We were standing by for death. Beloved neighbor Ron had a running battle with COPD, one he knew he was not going to win. His wife Amy let us know from time to time when he had a setback. Each time he bounced back, but never as high as he had been before. We were used to seeing him on the porch, tethered by a tube to a concentrator to help him breathe. It was a pleasure to stop by and chat with him. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was a great storyteller in the old Southern tradition.

112814 AM Amy JC Ron by EM
Anne, Amy, John, and Ron

We hadn’t seen Ron on the porch for over a week. When John spotted a red emergency truck leaving, he called Amy. She explained that Ron was slipping into a coma, and the end was near. The closest three households were in contact, keeping each other up to date. We were all praying for Ron and his whole family.

Two days later Amy sent a text, “He has gone home.”

I couldn’t speak, but I showed John the screen. Ron was at peace, no longer struggling for every breath of air. He died at home, exactly where he wanted to be at the end, surrounded by his family. Amy texted, “It was so beautiful and peaceful. We were singing and praying with all of us at his side.”

Highest accolades go to Amy. She didn’t complain about caring for Ron. When we moved here a year ago, she was free to come and go. Gradually her errands were shorter, and she no longer went to church. She was tethered, not by a tube, but by love. Ron urged her to go out, knowing outside contact was good for her. Several times she did and was recalled quickly when Ron had an emergency. Amy fulfilled her marriage vows beautifully on a daily basis. She lives her faith, and I stand in awe of her.

Is there a funny side to death? No, but there are amusing things that happen. John saw the comings and goings in the street as he sat at his computer. I refrained from looking too often, because that smacked of peering around the curtains. I didn’t want a self-label of nosy neighbor. A car from the funeral parlor parked in the drive. At that time, John asked about our dinner plans.

I said, “If you were a subtle person, I’d think you were trying to get me away from the front window.”

He looked at me quizzically. I said, “Because you know I’d be itching to take a picture. I usually take photos of big events.”

I wouldn’t blame him if he rolled his eyes. For the record, I took no pictures. It brought back a telephone conversation I had with the executor of my dad’s estate. Margaret said, “Garner picked up your dad from the hospital.”

I thought, how nice of him to pick Dad up and take him home. Of course I was dead wrong. I suddenly realized Garner was the name of the funeral home. Duh!!! Dad was no longer alive, and he was not going back to his home. Talk about the speed of stupid! It’s slower than you think.

As John and I ate on the back porch, I saw the big black vehicle drive up the street.

My heart said, “Goodbye, Ron. I loved knowing you, and I will miss you. I’ll be here if Amy needs me. See you soon.”