Through Another’s Eyes

I’m driving north on Georgia Hwy 85. The rain has slowed to a mist. I’ve got the wipers on slow motion. I get lost in my thoughts about the day ahead of me. I’m riding along in silence. Then “Ka-thwap”. The wipers nearly make me jump out of my skin.

It always seems like the sad days are cloudy and rainy days. I know this is not always true, but it certainly seems true today. I’m headed to Fayetteville to take part in my sister’s funeral. It doesn’t even seem real to think that she is gone.

When I went to the funeral home with Paul, her husband, he was glad to have me along because, depending on how you look at it, I had experience in these matters. It’s not an experience you want on your resume, but he was right. I knew what to expect. I knew what it would be like to sit across the table and go through the business end of making the funeral arrangements.

I was glad I could be there with him. I didn’t have any great wisdom to offer. Mostly, I just occupied a chair and gave a nod every time he looked at me for consent on the decisions he was being asked to make. From where I sat, he did well.

The funeral director was good. It was business to him, but he managed to be personal and patient and concerned with our family. I don’t know how you do that. Work in the arena of death, I mean. I guess you have to build walls around your heart and still find a way to help a guy who just lost his wife. He’s probably had this same conversation hundreds of times, but you could never tell it by the way he handled our loss.

He asked Paul about the minister who would officiate the service. Paul explained that they didn’t really have one, and then he looked at me.

“You’re her brother. You’ll want to speak at the funeral won’t you?”

I’ve spoken at a number of funerals in my time. Most all of them have been for people that I knew or was somehow close to the family. The father of a good friend. A second cousin twice removed. I actually sang “In the Garden” for my Aunt Annie’s funeral. I even did the entire service for the sweetest friend ever, who, in her eighties, was buried with a tiara on her head. She was a hoot.

But this was different.

I chose not to speak at the funerals for either of my parents. I listened in amazement as my oldest daughter spoke at Beth’s funeral. I certainly wasn’t going to try that. But now my brother-in-law is looking straight at me waiting on an answer.

“Sure,” I said. “I’d be honored to speak at her funeral.”

That was five days ago.

The rain has gotten harder, and the wipers are at normal speed. I’ve got several pages of notes with me, but my mind is spinning with all the things I could say. My stomach is doing loop-de-loops as my nerves begin to come unglued. I’m not sure if what I have to say will be adequate. Words always feel incomplete, especially these words on this day.

I’m practicing long slow breaths as I pull into the parking lot at Mowell’s Funeral Home. This place has been around all my life. Greek revival architecture with a southern charm. A massive façade that stands two stories tall. A veranda flanked with round, fluted white columns. Standing here is like being in a scene from Gone With The Wind.

For the next two hours we greeted friends and family from nearly every walk of life. Marian touched so many people over the years. Cousins came from miles and miles away. School friends who knew her through grade school and high school. IBMers. A crowd of guys from Paul’s motorcycle club.

The Atlanta Blues Society was well represented. Every one of them shared her love of music and many of them discovered their love of the blues through her influence. Some of them close friends. Some of them musicians who respected what she did for their craft. Lots of people who got to know her through her morning show on WRFG, “A Rendezvous With the Blues.”

They said things like:

“When I came to IBM, she took me under her wing.”

“Whenever I had a question, I knew I could go to Marian. She had the answers.”

“She was so smart.” I already knew that one.

“Everybody in the blues scene in Atlanta knew Marian and she knew them.”

“If you wanted to get something done, you only needed to put Marian in charge.”

“She was just the best at the radio station. She taught me everything.”

I was so glad that my good friend and preacher, Aaron, came along. He opened the service and gave us all just the right words of hope and promise.

Paul spoke first after Aaron. He was remarkable. Not only did he show extreme courage, he also showed us all just how much he loved my sister. For nearly 30 years, they gave each other their best.

I heard Brian talk about his years with Marian at IBM. To hear him talk about her, I was wondering why she never made CEO.

Carlin spoke. He goes by “C-Note”. He knew Marian through IBM, but he is apparently one of the founders of the Atlanta Blues Society who had no problem recruiting my sister to sign on. They shared work and play for a lot of years. “She was my best friend,” he told me afterwards.

Then the trio spoke. Susan, Mary, and Ginger. I couldn’t help but think of Gilligan’s Island, but a different Mary Ann and Ginger. These gals traveled to the four corners of the earth to listen to good music. They shared meals and gasoline costs and long days and nights all over the place doing together what they loved. Local taverns, festivals, house parties, and trips to Las Vegas. They bled the blues.

What I got out of this whole event was priceless. It was heartwarming. It was charming. And it was healing. I got to know my sister through their eyes. It was brilliant that Paul asked all of these people to talk about their time with her.

You see, a brother knows a sister one way. Friends and colleagues know her in a different way. And though we have always had a good relationship, we had separate adult lives. We have been in one another’s homes. We’ve spent holidays together. We chased a few music festivals together.

But I didn’t know her in the way these friends knew her. Through their eyes I saw a woman who was respected and loved and almost revered in ways that I had never imagined. I don’t use this phrase very often, but that service was a blessing to me.

By the time I got up to talk, there was only one thing on my mind. And I told the crowd this.

“I had one cool sister.”

3 thoughts on “Through Another’s Eyes

  1. You REALLY did have a COOL sister. I sent the obit to my sister and brother in law (who live in Fayetteville now, after 44 years on the left coast) and my sister replied, “I think I would have really liked her.” No doubt about it. She was something special. And you guys did a great job on her service. I’m sure Marian thinks that was pretty cool too.


  2. I loved reading this and reliving what I heard on Thursday. So glad we all got to see a side of Marian that might be different from what we saw. God bless you in your grief, Paul.


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