On Sunday and Monday, I drove over 360 miles. I drove out to East TX and back, for a funeral and to get some last-minute quality time with The Aunt. (And The Parents, and The Sister, Lord help us all).
My Uncle passed away after a long battle with Leukemia that was successfully treated, only to have a viral complication ultimately take him. He'd been in town in the hospital since about March, so it was just time for him to go be with Jesus. And I know with certainty that's where he is.
My Uncle was one of "those people". That never had an unkind word. That had a heart as big as Texas. That worked hard to love all of his people every day of his life. Not one person that knew him could say an unkind word about him. Not one.
He loved my Crazy Aunt (two words: ER) more than anything, and he inspired everyone around him to do everything in their power to put up with the Crazy Aunt in the weeks leading up to his death and in the days after his death. Like driving 360 miles in two days to be with her and see him off into his new adventure.
So when I say that the whole town came out to celebrate his life, I'm.not.kidding. This was the most amazing celebration I've ever seen. And despite that, it was an East Texas funeral at its finest:
Inappropriate clothing choices for the viewing on Monday night? Check.
Family drama coming from every direction? Double Check.
More food than one fridge or freezer can handle? Check.
Mullets, white leggings, and other various fashion catastrophes? Check.
Cell phone going off in the middle of the funeral multiple times? Check.
(Even better was the one that went off more than once and was set to the iPhone's "duck" sound.)
(Even better than that was after the general public had left the service, and the family was waiting to leave, and the preacher's phone went off: to the tune of the submarine alarm system. Awesome.)
But, aside from all of that was the reverence and the dignity that comes when one of the most prominent members of an East Texas town dies. My Uncle was the fire chief, as well as being a policeman and city manager. Everyone knew him. And everyone came out for the ceremony. And the processional.
Oh, the processional. If you've never been part of a funeral with full honors and such, I'd encourage you to change that immediately. We went to the funeral home to get arranged and process to the local junior college auditorium because he was so important that they couldn't just hold it in a church. When we got to the funeral home, we were the third car there. As they were getting prepared to load his body on the fire truck on which he was riding on to the auditorium, I hopped out of the car and snuck pictures. They are some kind of awesome, and at some point I would like to put them on this blog, but they are currently on a camera that is in Missouri. (Long story.)
I kept the camera around my neck, in hopes of getting a good shot of the fire engine ahead. I'm glad I did. You see, the entire town came out to watch the processional. They stood outside of their offices, and their shops, and some held flags, and some held their hands over their hearts, and some saluted. It was the most beautiful and dignified tribute I've ever been a part of. And yes, I was the lunatic in the third car with her head out of the window taking pictures of it all.
The grave site. Oh the grave site. Getting into the grave site, the casket was driven under two firetrucks with an American flag displayed between them. It was breathtaking. After a few words from the preacher (and another duck cell phone noise), they did a 21 gun salute (which scares the bejeesus out of you even when you know it's coming), played "Taps", rang the 5-5-5 fire bell salute, and then did a fireman's "last call." I can't remember what the 5-5-5 thing meant because I was too choked up to listen to it after hearing the "last call." It was the most beautiful ceremony I've ever been to.
And then, when it was time to go, The Aunt realized she'd locked her keys in the car and had to climb up on the step up to her Tahoe and stick her arm all the way down into the cracked windows to unlock it, and then quickly try to disarm the alarm before causing a scene.
Because that is just how we roll.