Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Terry Jackson

We buried Terry on Friday, April 17.

It didn't rain until after we said our last good-byes to Terry. In the several hours between Good Hope and midnight, it rained six or seven inches. I sat out on Brenda's patio watching the lightning flashes and counting for the thunder the way I was taught to count as a kid, you know, "one Mississippi, two Mississippi, and so on." The lightning was never right over us, but the rain was. All of those old church songs about being washed kept coming to mind. You know, "washed in the blood," "wash my sins away," that sort of thing.

I did let the rain "wash" the sadness brought on by Terry's sudden death, at least as much as I could. I wanted to speak to Terry's family about his greatness. Sure, they know he's great, but did they appreciate the impact he had on hundreds of people close and far away? I wanted to thank him for so many gifts to his cousins, near and far. I did tell his widow that I wanted to speak, but the opportunity didn't happen.

We all have different ways of processing death. In my multi-cultural existence here in California, I have sang several dozen varieties of the same song. After a few, we develop a few favorites. I like it when family and friends are invited to speak spontaneously of the deceased. Terry's service did not provide that opportunity. I was very disappointed. I did not feel slighted, just disappointed.

The young man who delivered the eulogy was a nephew. I didn't get his name, and I didn't get a copy of the program. He was great, but talk about country! He began by reading the eulogy from the funeral home's website, word for word. Bless his heart, he hadn't a lot of experience at reading in front of a large crowd, but you know what? He did great! After he finished the reading part, he started talking about his uncle Terry, and as he talked, the Spirit filled him and he gave a passionate testament of love for his beloved Uncle.

I was a pall-bearer. It is one of the ways we honor the dead. It goes back a long way in our cultural history. It allows us to honor our friend by taking responsibility for the body. It's mostly symbolic nowadays, but it wasn't that many years ago that pallbearers would be those in the family and friends and neighbors that would dig the grave, build the casket, and cover it. Now it's largely symbolic. BUT, I would have been proud to take a shovel, build a casket, carry it to the grave, cover it, and do what I could beyond that to comfort Terry's family. The symbolism was very strong in my heart and mind on Friday. There was something right about seven of Terry's friends, family, and me, taking the casket out of the Hearse and carrying it over to the grave. Even as symbolic as it is these days, it still takes physical strength to lift that heavy casket and carry it over to the grave.

The minister who preached Terry's service was Michael Cole, a young, handsome, Pentecostal preacher who is married to one of my Redbone cousins. He told the most delightful story about an interaction he had with Terry. Michael worked at the Singer Pentecostal Church for a few years. In those years, he had several opportunities to interact with Terry. He told this story. One Sunday, after services, he noticed Terry had a big smile on his face, and the twinkle in Terry's eye told Michael that it had something to do with him, so he asked him what made him so happy that morning. Terry's answer: "I love a short-winded preacher!" I liked the humility Michael Cole brought to his part in the service, as he worked through his own feeling of loss.

Terry was a powerful person if one measures power by the effect one has on the lives of others. Terry was not drawn to the Internet because of something lacking in his own life. Terry was drawn to the Internet because he had an abundance in his heart that he felt compelled to share. While he was kind to strangers, once the bond of kinship was established, he became fiercely loyal in his affection.

His most generous gift to us was the tombstone project. Erlene and Terry traipsed through thickle and briar, snakes and mosquitoes, high water and flood, to photograph and catalogue the tombstones in almost every cemetery in southwest Louisiana. No matter who you are, you could go to the site and find a picture of the tombstone of your Redbone ancestor. Thank you, Terry. May your name be blessed by dozens of generations to come.

It is said that only the living suffer death. The dead themselves are at peace. It is we the living who suffer loss. There's a lot of us living who are hurting right now. God sent us an angel to dwell amongst us and we took him for granted too many years. We are all poorer now with Terry's death.

A couple of years ago, Terry wrote this:

In telling these old stories of these folks, there is one thing that is
confirmed time and time again for me about a wish I have had all of my
life. That wish being, that I would have been able to just meet and
sit and talk with these people of mind for just a week. Just imagine
the history and details of the different stories and tales we have
heart that has been told over and over. We could have learned the
truth, too. I would be willing to bet that the truth wouldn't be far
from the way we know the stories today.

We buried Terry at Good Hope Cemetery. There are six generations of his ancestors buried there. I want to imagine them sitting out on God's front porch in their rocking chairs, laughing and remembering their stories. Terry's going to get a proper welcome, I know that's a fact. While he's going to want to hear their versions of some of the stories he's heard, they're going to want to hear him telling about growing up in Redbone country in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 10s. Oh sure, they may watch down and look out for us, but nobody told a story like Terry. They're going to want to hear his version.

Rest in peace, Terry, rest in peace. I am a better man having known you.

It's going to take me awhile to get over losing you.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Royce "Terry" Jackson
August 5, 1958 - April 14, 2009
Rest in peace, dear cousin, rest in peace. The world is a poorer place now without you.