Yesterday, Sam, Donna and I traveled to Atlanta to say good-bye to one of the kindest men I have ever known.
My second cousin Don, was a dentist by trade, but he was a gentleman by birth.
Don was mama’s first cousin and for the past 20 years has battled Parkinson’s Disease with grace and dignity, the same way he lived his life.
As a child, I looked to Don as my “city cousin,” with the fancy life, living in the big city. For a young kid, knowing someone who had a rock wall and aquarium in his bathroom was not only exotic but something that oozed success.
Don had success, because of a work ethic he learned from childhood in Elberton, GA. But more importantly he had kindness, wit, a twinkle in his eye and a quick grab for a hug or handshake, Don was taught those more important attributes in Elberton as well.
Don’s life was a testimony of love, laughter, compassion, kindness and touching lives with positive impact and gentle grace.
The attributes that made Don’s life one to emulate were on full display in a room filled with love and family at his gathering last night.
Don’s wife Tina, a spitfire of a personality, filled with a quick joke, laugh and devotion to her man stood center of room greeting everyone who walked in.
Dignified, yet grounded; Tina has always been the yin to Don’s yang. Tina made sure that Don’s final years have been as comfortable as possible, she is heartbroken now, but can move forward knowing her efforts paid off and the journey she has provided as matriarch and wife for the family have been exemplary.
There was Don, Lisa and Elena, the adult children of Don and Tina, also heartbroken but standing to greet everyone who was there to pay their respects.
Growing up, I looked up to Don, Lisa and Elena as the cousins who lived in the big city, had the big city life and lived a much more exciting life than I ever would in small town, God’s County. Today, I see them as well-rounded, kind, funny kinsman who exemplify busy lives with their eyes firmly planted on what is important, their family.
Don, Tina and their family have been constants in my life. One of my fondest memories was a 1976, 4th of July spent in Chamblee with Daddy and Don perched over a hog. As they grew into retirement, Don and Tina would pay mama and daddy a visit several times each year in Florida or God’s Country, and they were always……ALWAYS, there for us when our family needed a shoulder.
If mama and daddy were in the hospital, they were there, in our darkest days, they were there. Loved and appreciated, this family will always be close to my heart.
While Tina and her children and grandchildren were the focus of the room, there was much more love there to share.
Don’s older brother Billy, one of the funniest men I have ever known was the first to greet me with a hug and joke. Billy’s mischievous banter has never changed, he provides a levity to any situation and makes you feel completely loved.
I hadn’t seen Billy’s daughters in years, but an instant kinship and easy conversation followed after hugs from both. The same kinship I found with Don’s younger sisters Winnie and Bonnie, our “Virginia cousin” Tom and my generation of cousins there to pay their respects.
Tom commented at one point that it was really neat that as adults we have become friends. It’s true, while as children we rarely saw each other, and now as adults see each other even less, I value each of these people, and those who were unable to attend as relatives and friends.
We all remarked that we know what is going on in each other’s lives because of social media, it’s true, I feel like I am connected to them all because of Facebook and Instagram, email, texts and other miraculous ways we communicate.
The next time I see some inane political post placed to tear others down, I will remember these moments when family members hugged and laughed and comforted each other, all feeling a bit closer because of a slim box of plastic and circuit board, connected to an electric outlet in my living room.
Driving home, Donna, Sam and I talked about our family, the ones in the room and those who weren’t able to attend. It occurred to me as I thought about each person I had encountered earlier, we all came from pretty remarkable stock.
Our parents and grand-parents taught us about the important stuff, love of family, respect for others and decency. In that room filled with my family it is obvious to me, we have done a pretty good job of keeping those traditions in tact.
Today, the family will gather again, Don’s funeral will undoubtedly be filled with great stories of a life well lived, some poignant, some funny, all in honor of a man who figured it out early and lived a life that enriched those of us who knew him.