Before we go any further, let’s make no mistake: I hate funerals and will pretty much do anything to avoid them.
These days, I’ve traversed into Rudy Giuliani territory. In his autobiography, written post-9/11, his “Weddings Optional, Funerals Mandatory” chapter, highlighted how he developed this philosophy after having to attend numerous services in the days and weeks after the Twin Towers crumbled.
Weddings, way back when, were venues for seeing high school and college friends bite the dust, one by one. Some marriages lasted, others were Elizabeth Taylor-esque: They went kaput before the ink on the marriage license was dry. More often than not, sadly, some weddings are just a venue for do-overs.
“Reverend, pour me another round.”
But not funerals. The day an undertaker gets a mulligan is a perfect time to wonder if you’re still here. Think of Bruce Willis in “The Sixth Sense.” It took two hours, but he finally believed the kid who said he saw dead people, was, indeed, playing with a full deck.
That’s why Merrie Jackson’s memorial service last Monday at Ingram’s Funeral Home, for me, broke the mold.
It was blissfully uplifting. When longtime friend Margaret passed along memories, tears were at a minimum. I saw lots of smiles and chuckles.
Sure, there was sadness. But more prevalent were those who loved this special lady sighing in relief, finally able to acknowledge the curtain had come down on her valiant five-year battle with cancer.
She was a mom, friend, wife and one of the most unique people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I can remember when her husband, Shawn, was looking for a site for Merrie to fight her battle. All he had to say was “Stage 4” and chills went down my spine.
I know there is no Stage 5.
One shared Merrie story came from Margaret. Weakened and chilled to the bone after one of those devastating chemotherapy sessions, Merrie spied a homeless person, obviously cold and suffering. She wanted to give away her blanket until it was pointed out that she definitely needed it.
Merrie didn’t mind the teeth-chattering. Someone else was cold and that was more important to her.
This diminutive woman was deceptively strong. My son, Greg, and her son, Parker, played baseball together. Merrie was a fixture at their games. There was nothing tiny about her voice.
Like every other facet, you knew where she stood.
There have been books and plays written about strong Southern women. Merrie was one of those. She was a poster child for unique.
Being a Catholic, the concept of down-home country preaching is foreign to me. Jammie Fortner called up passion and conviction during her speech.
Without realizing what I was doing, my raised hand went up every time she raised hers and asked for an “Amen.”
Shawn is my very good friend. Lots of laughs on baseball trips to Florida with the boys. We still roar about Parker trying to put me in the ground by foregoing bowling for a little game of miniature golf in the worst heat and humidity combo Florida could dish out.
My delirium was a laugh riot when I staggered and stumbled, swearing I was winning the argument with the alligator in the pond. I still maintain that the dragon was real.
Close friend (and my neighbor) Cindi Yarbrough offered this: “Merrie was absolutely my bright light. With all she was going through, she always had a servant’s heart.”
No longer physically with us, Merrie’s spirit caught the eye of the staff at Cancer Treatment Center of America in Newnan. Word is, they are doing a case study on how Merrie lived for so long post-diagnosis.
The answer to that question is simple: Because she wanted to.
Mike Tasos’ column is published every other Sunday. Shawn is one of the best people I’ve ever met. I am honored to be his friend. I’m sure prayers for him, Kahner, Riley and Parker would be much appreciated. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also on Facebook.