What does it mean to go home? And where is home?
I pondered these questions as I watched the pallbearers load the dark wooden casket of my friend and parishioner, Betty Sue, a sweet Mississippi Delta lady, into the black hearse. She was born in Clarksdale, MS and had lived in Memphis for most of her life. But she was always a Mississippi girl, and wanted to be buried back down south in a family plot in a very old cemetery in Jackson, MS.
Her husband, children and grandchildren followed behind their matriarch, stoic upper lips readying for the long ride down to Mississippi. The Polo Club had brought lunch and toddies. The family was large. Each having thoughts of their loved one, that she would be with them no more. Homilies of eternal life with Jesus and belief in the resurrection are of only a little comfort amidst such deep grief of a sudden death.
Family love sustains. I watched the son hold his daughter’s hand, then grasp his weary-eyed father’s elbow to guide him to the car for the ride to the cemetery. A grandson stood aside, wiping tears on his suitcoat, something his grandmother would have admonished him for doing. He spoke a few words prior to the homily, memories of his grandmother he will always hold dear.
Betty Sue was a member of a Bible class that met in members’ homes for almost 20 years. The members of the class were long time friends. Several of the women began their careers fresh from college as airline stewardesses for Southern Airways. That was back when women were the only stewards on those flights, and men were the only passengers. Women lit the men’s cigarettes, poured their drinks, and fetched their briefcases from the overhead bins. The women in the Bible class love each other deeply. I led the class for a couple of years, until my schedule became too full. I miss them.
I thought about these women, all getting older and fearful that each year there will be fewer of them. And I thought about Betty Sue and how she is dancing with the angels knowing she is heading back to her beloved Mississippi, going home to rest eternal in the shifting soils of Jackson to a cemetery that holds Confederate generals, governors, judges and mayors. And of course Eudora Welty.
Which got me to thinking about my own burial some day. My husband and I have talked about how much we love the Mississippi River, and the Natchez Trace and how much these landmarks have been a part of our lives. We’ve decided that when we die we want half our ashes sprinkled somewhere in a woodsy area along the Trace, and the other half dumped into the Mississippi River. So at least our ashes will dissolve into the soils that we’ve frequented. Home. In a sense.
Then I think about the river and where those waters and our ashes might end up …. perhaps resting in the soils of Africa or China, or at the bottom of the Gulf. But we’ll never know. We’ll be like Betty Sue, with folks who loved us trailing behind us as we go home, where ever it might be.
What does “going home” mean to you?