As I wrote this post in my head over the last few days, I kept trying to come up with a title that would capture all that happened. As you might expect, it was a week filled with ups and downs. It was no fun writing my Mama’s obituary. (I actually had to write four – one for the website, one for the Daily Press, one for the Virginian-Pilot and one for the program – all slightly different.) I can’t thank Kenny Alexander and his staff at Metropolitan enough – they did a marvelous job all week, including running interference with the cemetery when they threatened carefully constructed plans.
Friday was the family viewing. My sister, Sarah, had obtained a cassette tape, made in 1979, of Mama – and the rest of us – singing at the church’s Family Day. I was so exhausted that I completely forgot that she had given it to me until she called about something else late Friday evening. After I got off the phone, I started messing with getting the tape converted to digital.
Words simply cannot convey how thrilled I was to hear Mama’s voice – so strong, so beautiful. Just listen:
If that weren’t enough, there’s a song on the tape with my brother, Robert, singing a solo as well as one with all of us singing while I played the piano.
I went to bed Friday night (actually Saturday morning) feeling peaceful.
My mother’s surviving siblings were already at the church when I arrived. I’ve seen my Aunt Maranda in recent years but I don’t remember the last time I saw my Uncle George and his wife, Aunt Virginia. We weren’t sure that Uncle George was going to make it down so I was thrilled to see him. And since he is a minister (actually pretty high up in the church hierarchy – he’s a presiding elder emeritus – here is a video of him preaching beginning at about 1:13), I checked to see if he wanted to participate in the service. He told me no – he is, after all, almost 91. He said he and my mother, some 20 months older, were like twins.
We lined up in the vestibule for the processional. For the first time, I laid eyes on the pastor, Rev. Joshua N. King, Sr., who led the processional.
This pastor is relatively new to Zion. This is the church where my father was ordained in 1941 and which our family returned to in 1963. My father served as associate pastor of the church until his death in 1973. As long as she was well, my mother attended this church. Only my sister, Sarah, along with her husband, who is a deacon, still attend. I knew this pastor had visited my mother in the nursing home since his arrival. Nevertheless, I was perplexed that he had not spoken to the family prior to the service – you know, to meet the rest of us, to see if there were any last minute changes. If nothing else, to offer a pulpit spot to my uncle.
It was a critical mistake.
He started by mispronouncing one of my sister’s name – and then left one sister – me – off completely. Strike one.
Then he made an absurd statement about Mama bossing around the nurses at the nursing home. Um, dude – “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” Strike two.
But the most egregious error came when he – not once, not twice, but three times – called my Mama by the wrong name. He called her “Sarah.”
It’s not as if he didn’t have her name on the program – hell, I got three phone calls Friday that he wanted a copy of the program in advance. He acknowledged to me around 12:15am Saturday that be had received it.
So what was his problem? That I don’t have an answer to but after the third time, I stood up and said, “My Mama’s name is Elizabeth.” (I wasn’t the only one who said something, by the way.) I then offered to finish the eulogy myself.
When we arrived at the gravesite, I went over to speak with one of the associate pastors that I knew from my days of attending the church. I mentioned that they might want to ask my Uncle George if he wanted to speak. I think they mis-heard me; nevertheless, they offered him a few moments there.
We returned to the church for the repast – “Pastor” King never put in an appearance. (And I thought the previous pastor was bad!)
My Mama – a deaconness in this church – deserved better. I hope the folks at Zion recognize the arrogance of this man.
Thank you so much for all of compassion that has been shown to me and my family during this difficult time.
“To live forever in the hearts of family and friends is to never die.”