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Even in death, my brother led and taught

As funerals go, I'd like to have one like the one held in celebration of my brother's life.

Yes, there were tears and ­moisture-laden tissue tightly squeezed in ­trembling fists.

But there was also joyous laughter, and there were good memories that flowed so easily and so continuously that the minister was left only a few minutes to remind people about God, Jesus and heaven.

My brother, the oldest of three siblings in the Davis clan, died peacefully Aug. 11 after fighting pancreatic cancer for nearly two years.

No pain. No drugs. No complaining.

His wife had to wait an entire week to bury him because there were so many people who wanted to be at the funeral, who wanted to see for themselves that the man they had grown to love was gone.

They were of African-American, Caribbean, Asian, Hispanic, and Caucasian descent, plus mixtures of all of them. There were rich and poor, educated and uneducated.

They came from ­California; Florida; Tennessee; Kentucky; New York; Washington, D.C.; areas surrounding my brother's home in Leesburg, Va.; and even Essex, England.

During the funeral service in Leesburg, the minister said this would not be one of those funerals that we've all seen, filled with platitudes and Bible verses that in no way reflect the character of the deceased.

Instead, he said, the ­service would be a ­celebration of a home-going.

First up was my brother's sister-in-law, who indeed spoke of my brother's technological skills and handyman expertise, as well as his eating prowess, which wasn't necessarily exhibited in the presence of his wife, a strict healthy-food advocate.

Next came our cousin from Owensboro, who was asked on the spur of the ­moment to say a few things.

She took that opportunity to make it impossible for anyone to remember only the sad times.

She spoke of our ­family, not well-known for its tolerance of incompetence, stupidity or arrogance, and pointed out that even though my brother was a part of that family, he shouldn't have been. He was tolerant of all people, and patient.

It was a good thing his friends knew him and not the rest of us.

She said he had often tried to bring her into the 21st century by ­instructing her on the use of the computer and then ­sending things by e-mail to help reinforce her venture, despite all her efforts to live in days of old.

One woman called my brother a nerd. Another said geek. All said compassionate. All said he was a teacher.

My daughter spoke of having a friend to call when she couldn't talk with her mother and of welcoming visits from her uncle because they always involved pizza, again only if his wife was not around.

When all the laughter was beginning to hurt, one young lady from Tennessee came to the podium. She said my brother had gently urged her to take part in a series of steps that, when completed in a year, would result in her reading the entire Bible.

Because of his nudging, she began the series and then took the information back to her congregation in Tennessee. Her church there thought it was a good idea and started the series, too.

”He never knew that,“ she said. ”He never knew how far his influence was. It is a church of 500 members.“

The minister then was given a brief moment to say that when he had asked my brother and sister-in-law to join Mount Zion United Methodist Church, he was questioned thoroughly by my brother.

What were their rules and regulations? What were their missions and focus? What kind of God did he serve?

It was like a cross-examination, he said. But when it was over, the church had gained a good and faithful servant.

My brother's son, my nephew, then stood at the podium and admonished us all to stop the trash-talking.

We all grew quiet, ­thinking we had overstepped the bounds of propriety. It surely seemed more like a family reunion than funeral.

He spoke of my brother's goodness, of his taking in his wife's two children 34 years ago and making them his own. He said he couldn't imagine the love of a ­biological father being more than what he had received from my brother.

We dabbed our eyes.

And then, he cautioned us not to make my brother, his father, into an angel. He wasn't, my nephew said.

And, he said, there were times when he didn't like him. An example of that was when a belt, chosen by my nephew from a drawer filled with belts, would come down on his behind.

Feigning innocence only briefly, my nephew ­admitted he deserved each and every correction, which helped make him the doctoral ­candidate he is today.

Then, after another song, we all walked behind the ­casket about two blocks up the street, lined with century-old houses and brick ­sidewalks, to the cemetery.

All we needed were umbrellas and a brass band, and we could have had New Orleans in Leesburg.

So, my big brother is truly gone now, but he is still teaching us how we should live as well as die.

We need to learn that lesson.

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