My memories of the hours and days after my mother’s death are random and they seem like a lifetime ago, yet they are as vivid as if they occurred yesterday. One occurrence, if that is even the right word, one event, one thing that someone did has left a big scar. It also provided me an early life lesson on compassion or rather the lack thereof.
Elizabeth Forester comforting 3 distraught children in their front yard. Della Snapp’s chocolate cupcakes with Crisco frosting. Choosing a dress for my mother to wear. Standing with my brothers choosing a casket. Standing in the funeral home lobby listening to some lady I didn’t know tell me “When one door opens, another one opens”. Feeling disconnected and all alone even though there were lots of people around – at least I think so. Kim Adams singing at the funeral while Clay Howard played piano. I’m pretty sure that music happened. I’m very sure about those chocolate cupcakes.
After the funeral in Harlan, we all traveled to my father’s birthplace where his mother still lived and where he and mom had burial plots. Belfry, Pike County, Kentucky. I don’t remember getting there. I don’t remember where or how I slept. I don’t remember what I ate. I don’t remember if we were there 1 day or 2 days. I don’t remember getting back home. I don’t even remember much about the burial. I do remember the funeral home visitation. My chest just got tight. Oh yes, I remember the visitation.
Chairs were set up and I had a front row seat along with my brothers and my dad. Mom was in her white casket in her red dress. I always loved that dress on her, I thought she looked beautiful in it with her fair skin and dark hair. It’s why I chose it. That was my only thought. I remember strangers murmuring about it being an odd choice for a funeral dress. I stuck close to my brothers. We really didn’t know anybody beyond our grandmother, uncles, aunts and cousins. We were numb, it wasn’t a social event for us, it was something to get through. Looking back on it, we must have been dead on our feet with exhaustion and grief. We were kids whose world had just been rocked. We were at Hatfield Funeral Home and I assume it was Mr. Hatfield who came out and asked me if I wanted mom’s wedding ring before they closed the casket prior to burial. I couldn’t imagine taking it off her finger. It was hers. I told him no.
We were all asked to sit down. Singing started. It was terribly sad, mournful, off key singing. Then a man came to a wooden podium and everyone got quiet. My brothers and I were in our front row seats. Dad whispered that he was the preacher from my grandmother’s church and she’d asked him to be there. We were raised to show respect to police officers, doctors, preachers and our elders in general. That granting of automatic respect ended for me that day.
Brother Compton who didn’t know my mother, who didn’t know us, started speaking. No, he started preaching. His voice started getting louder. He started gesturing as he continued to preach louder and louder. I wasn’t taking in the words, I was just sitting and hearing noise. Until I heard him shout Let this be a lesson to you! Then I saw him point to my mother lying in her beautiful red dress in her white casket that her children picked out and he continued to preach against sin and that the only way to heaven is to repent … then he pointed again at my mother then back out to the crowd …. suicide is a sin and if you don’t repent of your sins, you will die and burn in hell.
I remember feeling hot, couldn’t breathe, confused, hurt, incredibly upset and I couldn’t sit there a second longer. I have zero memory of what my brothers and my dad were doing or what they did immediately after. I got up and I ran out of there. I ran from the front of the chapel to the steps outside. Crying hysterically. My cousin Charles is the first person I remember being at my side trying to comfort me. Then my Uncle Cecil was there fussing at me for being disrespectful to Brother Compton. I have no memory of anything else beyond being aware that lots of people were outside standing around. I 100% have the memory of who did not come to talk to me, who did not come to comfort me. The man who did not know my mother. My mother. The most beautiful, caring, sensitive person that I’d ever known and have ever known. The man who had not a shred of compassion or love for three motherless children who had just found their mother dead a few days before. Three children who he did not know, had never met and had never spoken to. The man who forever changed the way I look at preachers, churches and “men of God”. I’ll never forget his name. Brother Compton.