Posted by: angelnorman | February 7, 2009

thoughts from a funeral.

This week has been a not-so-fun week for us. On Tuesday, I was in my kitchen chopping veggies for my first attempt at bolognese sauce when I got a phone call that I actually ended up missing. When I finally got the chance, I checked the caller ID and noticed it was my grandmother, so I dialed her number to see what she had wanted. When she answered, I asked her how she was and she began to sob. Turns out she had called to tell me that my great-uncle John, my Papa’s brother, had very suddenly passed away a few hours earlier.

Last night I went to the funeral home for the visitation. I chatted with old friends and relatives, many of whom I haven’t seen in years. My cousins- or should I say my dad’s cousin’s children (is that third cousin? 2nd cousin? I’m always confused on how that works out),- with whom I spent a good deal of time during my childhood had grown into very handsome men. I was looking at them last night and thinking about how long it had been since I had seen them… I finally figured out that the last time I seen both of them together was at my brother Mark’s funeral 10 years ago. It made me so sad to think about how time flies. I can’t even believe my brother’s been gone that long.

There was never a time in my childhood when I dreamt that things would be any different than how it was back then. I assumed that we’d all be close forever. Windy and Cindy Laney would always be like sisters to me– their parents like wonderful extra parents for me, extra grandparents for my children (as if they needed it). East Nashville General Baptist would change and grow, and be like a second home. I would always go to church there; we all would. Every Sunday, without fail, it would be like a family reunion. And afterwards, we’d all go to eat or have BBQs at someone’s home. Me, Buffy, and Stephanie would live beside one another- with me in between them just like I am in age– and we’d help each other raise our children and deal with our problems, our squabbles with our spouses, our stresses. The same would be true for my brother Mark and his best buddies, our cousins Tommy and BJ. I would have never guessed how spread out we’d all be, how it takes a funeral to bring us together after a decade of untogetherness.

There’s always this weird awkwardness that I feel when I think of my cousins. It’s not that I feel weird around them because of anything they’ve done; it’s just this constant nagging thing inside of me whenever I spend time with any of them that reminds me how long it’s been since the last time I’d spent time with them. For instance, at Christmas, my cousin Stephanie made a comment about how when she was little, she always looked forward to seeing me on Christmas Eve. It really touched my heart, and not just because she equates me with the happiest of all holidays. It touched my heart because so many times I think about how close she and I were, and I always wish that we could go back to that place, to that close friendship we once had before we were old and life happened. Before we got too busy, had kids, etc. I feel this way about all of cousins… I just wish I saw them all more often, that I was more involved in their lives, and that they were major players in my life. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about and pray for them– all of them. So it touched my heart that she said that because it was so kind, and it made me think that maybe she has that same wish. Maybe she wishes she could see me more often, too.

My cousin David drove up from Pulaski, where he’s doing drill this weekend. He spotted me and gave me a huge hug. When I was about 17, I developed a really close relationship to my cousin David. He was 27 at the time, roughly, and he and I hadn’t really been close before then. But all the sudden, one day, I noticed how awesome it was to talk to him and we became really good friends. Mike and I would visit him and Charlene in Chattanooga, which is how we fell in love with the city, and we’d follow David’s band Hazmat and sing along with all their songs. We’d take Tori, David’s daughter, out to eat, to the Aquarium, to the park. We’d have dinners with Charlene’s family in Chicamauga, Georgia, and go grocery shopping and run errands with them. It was great fun to have this seperate life in Chattanooga for awhile, a life spent hanging out with my lovely family. But then Mike and I started hurting for money, and I had to go to work. On the weekends, I was much too tired to go to Chattanooga. Then I got pregnant and had a child. David was sent to Afghanistan. And then he was sent to Iraq. Time just marched on and we fell out of touch, our relationship left only to extra hugs at family gatherings or emails that always say “I love you and miss you.”

So I felt so lucky when David introduced me to his friend and fellow “army man” (as Nick called him) Ken in this way: “This is Angel, my best friend. My cousin.” I felt a lump in my throat as I shook the guy’s hand and joked, “His favorite cousin.”

But it really made me smile. Best friend. He misses me too. (Update: We made plans to visit him in Chattanooga on the weekend of the 20th for our anniversary– as we often do when he’s not in a foreign country fighting in a war and all.)

Also on my mind: Cindy Laney has the cutest baby girl in the world– well, other than Everly, my cousin Stephanie’s daughter. I really want a baby girl and BAD. I’ve decided I’m naming her Maggie, after my great-grandmother. Maggie Elizabeth, more than likely. Oh. Her initals will be MEN. Hrm, I may need to rethink this. Also? I like the name Lucy Renea. Maybe Maggie Renea then Lucy Elizabeth for the next? I digress.

My cousin Buffy sat beside me today at the funeral. She wasn’t crying until just before we went to say our last goodbyes to Uncle John, at the closing of the service. We walked up there, touched his hand, hugged our grandfather, cried and snorted our way back to our seats. Then she leaned over at me and said, “The saddest thing is that someday soon, we’ll be in those first rows.” I started in with the ugly cry. After my grandmother being in the hospital last week, and then my great uncle John passing this week, it’s hard to not think about the inevitability of death, even though your grandparents seem immortal in a way. I couldn’t bear to think of it though. I was already crying hard enough.

When I was a girl, probably around 14 or so, I told my Granny that I heard Vince Gill sing a song that reminded me of Grandaddy, her husband who passed away when I was 6. She asked me to play it for her, and so I brought my cassette of “Go Rest High On That Mountain” the next day and played it for her. I will never forget how she broke down into tears and wails during the song, how I had to hold her as she cried. Ever since then, I’ve been certain that it was the saddest song in the world. Ten or so years later, hearing that song played at Granny’s funeral just about caused the same reaction in me. Then, it was played in October at my Uncle Don’s funeral causing a similar reaction, and again today at Uncle John’s with yet another crying fit on my part.

(They followed it with “Daddy’s Hands” today, which is quite possibly the second saddest song in the world, epsecially for a girl with Daddy issues like me.)

I keep thinking about my Nanny calling me that afternoon. I keep thinking about how at first, I thought, “Something’s happened to Papa.” And then, “Oh my God. What’s happened to Daddy?” I haven’t talked to my dad since Christmas. I decided then and there I would call him weekly. How would I ever be able to live my life knowing that I didn’t call him often enough? Everyone always says that it’s not just ME, that I shouldn’t have to carry the relationship. But will those people be there to hold me up when I lose my father, when I know in my heart that it had been months since our last conversation? I would rather spend my life trying to fix that relationship, even if that means carrying it and all the responsibility, than to lose my father and know that I hadn’t done all that I could. If that makes sense.

Ugh, so much sadness.

I did have some laughs though. I went to hug my great-aunt Shirley, John’s wife, and she didn’t recognize me. Then she hugged me and said, “Oh honey, you used to give me such a hard time at B&R, you were MEAN!” B&R was a clothing store where she worked with my Granny, whom she always called “Malone”. She went on and on about how mean I was as a child, how I would mess up all the clothes and she’d have to go behind me and put them back in the right sizes. I apologized and everyone was laughing about it.

“Malone loved you,” she said suddenly of my Granny. “All the other women, we’d tell her that she ought to correct you, and you know what she’d say? She’d say, ‘Well you oughta mind your own business!’

Yep. That sounds just like my Granny.

I hate death and passing time. Sometimes I even hate memories- even the happy ones- because they remind you of what you had, what you no longer have. I know life is not possible without any of these things, but it doesn’t make it easier when you watch you family grieve. It doesn’t make the pain go away.

But Uncle John, I know you’re in Heaven, and you’re up there with my Granny, your parents, Sister Laney, and my great-grandmother Maggie. You’re there with Mark, and with Jesus, and you’re happy and healthy. Your Heavenly body doesn’t ache with every step, your walk is perfect. For you, I am truly happy. Because it’s not that we lost you really; it’s that Heaven gained you. While we’ve spent our week crying and mourning, you have already kissed Jesus and sang with angels. You have reunited with family, and one day, we’ll all get to come join you. I love you forever, Uncle John.



  1. hugs to you, my dear. i’ve been thinking about you all week and i feel awful i hadn’t called or emailed. shame on me….. and i am the same way, i thought I’d always be in cincy, hanging out with my sisters and my cousins, my family and everybody i grew up with and we’d all go to the same schools and chruches and whatever. and i still miss it terribly, but funny thing is, my life is way better than i ever imagined it would be.

    and i love that now that I’m working in the schools the people I’m running into all the time always somehow tie back to YOU! i just think thats so cool…..

  2. I’m thinking of you guys a lot this weekend. Hope the family can mourn together with peace of mind. *LOVES*

  3. you all are in my prayers!!!!

  4. It has been a tough week. I also think it’s kind of sad how life goes on and things aren’t the way they once were. But at the same time, if things had stayed the same, we probably wouldn’t have the lives and families we love so much today. I do miss the closeness we used to have. I love when we do get to hang out and catch up, it’s just so hard to do it as often as we once did, like you said. But hey, I’m still looking forward to learning how to knit from you!! Hopefully we can do that soon.

    Oh and btw, I know you can’t call dibs when it comes to baby names, but Rachel said she was planning to name her baby Magnolia and call her Maggie too a while back. I guess great minds think alike. Nanny would be so happy to have one of her ggkids named after her Mom.

    Remember when she was always trying to convince me, you, or Buffy that if we had a daughter we should name her Molly after her grandma (I think)

    And I agree about Rikki, Cindy’s baby. Wow, she’s cute! And I love all of her hair.

  5. Angel, I am so sorry for all that you are dealing with lately. I will pray for you and your cousins in the two accidents this weekend. I also feel terrible because I don’t think I knew that you had lost your brother several years ago. Hope things get WAY better ASAP.

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