Friday, September 6, 2013

Celebrating Life: An Aunt's Funeral

By Ken Neal
Tulsa World
May 4, 2003
      I dreaded going to my aunt’s funeral recently, but I shouldn’t have.
  It was a marvelous experience. Not to say that I was happy. It was bittersweet. I had known her since she married into my family more than 60 years ago.
      The funeral at Sapulpa’s First Assembly of God was a classic. It was a down-home, heart-tugging gathering of an extended family. I am tempted to label it Oklahoma, but I suspect it is repeated all over the nation every day.
     The patriarch of the family, my uncle, shared the attention with my aunt, but there were brothers and
sisters, her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, cousins, second cousins, in-laws and probably a few
outlaws gathered to say farewell to the woman who had cooked countless meals, worked side by side with
her husband, changed diapers and wiped the noses of the whole brood even as she served as the family
     Her favorite pastor, the Rev. Bill Weaver, presided. And preside he did. At 74, “Brother Bill” has
preached his share of funerals. He’s looked out at countless audiences such as this one whose deep emotions
showed in their faces, and into the bereft face of a mate who knows he’s not long for this life himself.
    Quite honestly, I don’t know how he did it, but by the time Brother Bill was through, the congregation
had joined him and a quickly assembled quartet in singing familiar old gospel songs of hope for glory. Even the morticians, who have buried several generations of this family, were moved and, quite frankly,
quickly lost control of the events.

      True to tradition, the entire assemblage filed by the elaborate casket. But the first person in line stopped
to hug my uncle and whisper condolences and the entire church followed suit. It was almost more than
the family could take, seeing the sincere and often tearful moments. It was a spontaneous outpouring of
love and concern that we seldom see.
      Brother Bill didn’t dwell on church doctrine. He didn’t have to admonish people to live better lives. He had the best sermon possible lying before him in the worn body of the live-wire woman who was my aunt.
He laughed, joked, sang and cried as he led a family to accept death and cling to the hope of an afterlife.
      The assemblage of a family didn’t stop at the church. We all adjourned to Sinnett cemetery west of the old town of Keystone, where my grandfather, grandmother, several aunts and numerous cousins and friends
      There some well-wishers who live in the area joined in the graveside rites, including Bill Lincoln who has
known our family for more than 80 years.
      In all, the day was a celebration, honoring a life well lived and of the “family values” we so often toss off
in political conversations. In observing the death of a significant person, it was a celebration of life.
     Some particulars: My aunt’s name was Maurine (Brown) Neal. My uncle is Junior Earl Neal. Longtime
Tulsans will remember that they were partners with Chuck Zandbergen and his wife, Louise, Maurine’s
sister, in the Zandbergen nursery on South Peoria Avenue.
     A personal note: I met Maurine when she married Junior in 1942 when I was 7. When he went to Europe
in World War II, I lived almost next door to Aunt Maurine. She was perhaps 17 when I was 9. We were
great buds then and remained so until she died.

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