october 7, 2017

posted in: photography | 5

“We live in a time when science is validating what humans have known throughout the ages: that compassion is not a luxury; it is a necessity for our well-being, resilience, and survival.”
~ Joan Halifax

 

least among them

 

Uncle Greg’s funeral was chock full of symbolism and a truck load of humor. You see, he had his coffin custom built. It’s been sitting in his cabin up Railroad Fork for the last six years. The utility company came through to clear the lines, and fell a walnut tree on his property. Rather than let it rot, he sawed it into planks, then hired a local Mennonite carpenter to build the coffin. He needed someplace to keep it until it was needed, so he put it in his cabin. Some might find that morbid, but for me, it was one of the most creative things to do. Why would you pay thousands for a coffin when you could have one built from a piece of wood off the land that’s been in our family for generations? It wasn’t just practical, it was meaningful. It was very Uncle Greg.

 

brothers

 

Greg had worked thirty years at General Motors in Ohio. Between that and his farm(s) in Brown County, he’d made quite a few friends in Ohio. The family held visitation in Ohio the night before the funeral in Eastern Kentucky. The following morning, Richard loaded Uncle Greg (in his coffin) into his pick-up truck, and followed by the family assembled in Ohio, they started a journey to Eastern Kentucky for Greg’s final resting place. Dad and Uncle Phillip fell in with the caravan at Index (that’s in Morgan County) as they escorted Greg up Highway 191 through Cannel City for the last time. I was told the whole journey was a spectacular thing to see. Greg in his coffin riding in a pick-up truck up Highway 191. It was very Uncle Greg. 

 

always with purpose

 

Uncle Greg had four children; the most of any of dad’s brothers and sisters. Those children gave he and Aunt Virginia nine grandchildren, and it was they who acted as pallbearers. The youngest is Pierce. While he was too small to bear the full weight of the coffin (top photo), he was more than big enough to bury his grandfather (last photo). I think he would have buried the coffin single-handedly if the other men hadn’t stepped in. He was being very Uncle Greg about it, actually; completely determined to do the job. It was a long day, but it was an extraordinary day from start to finish, just like Uncle Greg. 

 

doing his part

february 21, 2016

posted in: photography | 1

“The heart that truly loves has no room for grudges.” ~ Ghanaian Proverb

 

good men
good men

 

Funerals are strange things really. Overwhelming grief in the midst of boundless gratitude. Between the tears are laughter, stories, and heartfelt hugs. I will not lie and say today was a bundle of fun. It was one of the saddest days I’ve ever had. Still, despite bone deep sadness, I stand in awe of just how spectacular my family is. We are a strong, hearty hillbilly bunch, and we’re more alike than probably most of us care to admit. But it’s true. We were made from salt of the Earth stock and it shows on days like this. How perfect cousin Michael’s graveside service was, urging us to be glad of the time we had with James; to be thankful in the memories we share, and not just with James, but with each other; to continue to love and accept love. Ultimately, I think grief is meant to make us grateful. And if we’re not grateful for what we have, and for those whom we love, then we’ve lost the lesson entirely. Therein lies the real tragedy. I know I’m grateful for every single member of my family. For all they are, and for all they are not, but mostly for loving each other enough to show up when it really matters: Mamaw, Papaw, Randolph, Lucille, dad, mom, Greg, Virginia, Phillip, Linda Gail, Mabel, Ralph, Linda (even somehow ‘ol crazy Vernon), Barbara, Bill, Lois, Galen, Harold, Phyllis, Darrel, Judy, Ralph Paul, Nila, Danny, Sherry, Charlene, Roger, James Trent, Marcie, Michael, Rhonda, Ann, Danny, Tamara, Curt, Jeff, Kelly, Richard, Christine, Mark, Eddie, Daphne, Missy, Mike, Renee, Aaron, Lanelle, Brian, Jessica, Eric, Evyian, Robyn, Kevin, Misty, Tina, Brittany, Robby, Kevin, Lisa, Steven, Ryan, Michelle, Jordan, Cayleigh, Codi, Austin, Dylan, Amanda, Allison, Joey, Pierce, Katy, Samantha, Ava, Sophia, Sydnie, McKenzie, Macie, AJ, Adam, Logan, Lynsey, Austin, Ashtyn, Carter, Ray, Gryffin, Gunnar, and #52 (still in the oven), plus all of Mamaw and Papaw’s nieces and nephews some of whom came to the funeral or visitation last night. My life has more blessings than stars in the sky.

 

the original good men
good men II

january 30, 2016

posted in: photography | 0

“The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” ~ Paulo Coelho

 

major
major

 

Today, we buried my uncle Roger Vest. His service was held at Grace Baptist Church in Winchester. The funeral procession then made it’s way to Lexington Cemetery. The Fayette County Sheriff did an incredible job getting us through downtown; no easy task on a busy Saturday. It was a beautiful day, with a stiff, warm breeze. A real change from last weekend’s massive snow. The graveside service was short. Roger’s nephews carried his casket to the grave. Mom and dad lead the family in Amazing Grace. The preacher said a few words. Each of Roger’s nieces placed a pink rose on his casket as we made our exit from the tent. I, of course, then went straight to the car for my camera as my Aunt Charlene said her final goodbye.

 

out with a bang
out with a bang

 

Someone drew my attention to the billowing black smoke. We all knew right away it was no ordinary fire. In ten minutes time the sky turned black. There were sirens and explosions. Soon, the directors urged us to leave as no one yet knew what was on fire and we were directly under the smoke. It wasn’t until we got to my cousin’s church on Ashland Avenue to share a meal that we learned it was the Blue Grass Stockyards. The seven-acre, seventy year old facility the size of a city block went up quickly. The wind whipped three-alarm fire caught six nearby businesses on fire as well.  Slim’s Towing, with a hundred cars in the lot, was the source of the explosions. Despite 120 firefighters, all of it was a total loss. No human lives were lost, but at least twenty cows in the stockyard died. We were sad to see Roger go so suddenly. We were sad to see so many businesses go up in flames, but it sure made for a memorable funeral. Godspeed Roger. Godspeed cattle.

 

miles away
miles away

august 8, 2014

posted in: photography | 0

See It Through by Edgar Guest

“When you’re up against a trouble,
Meet it squarely, face to face;
Lift your chin and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace.
When it’s vain to try to dodge it,
Do the best that you can do;
You may fail, but you may conquer,
See it through!

Black may be the clouds about you
And your future may seem grim,
But don’t let your nerve desert you;
Keep yourself in fighting trim.
If the worst is bound to happen,
Spite of all that you can do,
Running from it will not save you,
See it through!

Even hope may seem but futile,
When with troubles you’re beset,
But remember you are facing
Just what other men have met.
You may fail, but fall still fighting;
Don’t give up, whate’er you do;
Eyes front, head high to the finish.
See it through!”

 

in this place
in this place

 

This is the little church my grandmother Adams worked so hard to help build. She spent many a day and night cooking over hot stoves to feed the community, buying dinners and baked goods she and the church women made to support the building and maintenance of their sacred space. When she talked about her end of life services, she said she didn’t want to be in the church. Not because she really didn’t want to be there, but because she thought it would be too much trouble. It was not too much trouble for the last remaining founder. We overruled her. Seven months later, when the 2012 tornado tore through town, hers was the only church left standing, suffering only slight roof damage. She would have been pleased.

 

It’s been a tough summer for many people I love, and it’s had me thinking quite a bit about legacies and end of life arrangements. Mamaw had done most of the work for her exit; making sure there was a will, her wishes known for the service, and money set aside to pay for it. You don’t have to be 98 years old to do this. Illness and accidents can befall us at any age, and if these points aren’t in place, things can get really weird. The sweetest people can get hostile and greedy when grief sets in. I’ve seen it happen more than once, and it’s ugly. If you don’t have your wishes written down, that angry grief can cause unspeakable misery. If you don’t have a financial mechanism to pay for your services, that money has to come from somebody else. Even cheap funerals cost thousands. A person’s estate, however big or small, can become a big mess if not prepared for eventual dissemination among the benefactors. Why make things worse for the people you’re supposed to love by not preparing anything at all? Like many, I have labored under the delusion that I’ve got time to sort this out later. This, despite the fact that too many people I love walked on in their 20’s and 30’s. You’d think I’d know better. I don’t. Or at least I didn’t until recently. So, I’m embarking on a happy plan to see a lawyer and write it all down. I’ll have the money in place to pay for it, and say exactly who gets what so that the people I care about don’t have to question the last things they do for me. That’s only fair to them. And it will put my mind at ease knowing I’ve done the work. Then I can get back to the business of leaving something behind that can weather a storm.

 

after the storm
after the storm

january 8, 2013

posted in: photography | 0

The only trick to living the life you desire is believing it exists and belongs to you.
~ Unknown

the best present of all
the best present of all

I am 48 today. I received gifts that made me smile, touched my heart, and made me laugh hard. I’m surrounded by people who are good and kind and who love me. I feel it. I know it. How lucky am I? Mind you, attending a funeral visitation on one’s birthday may not seem quite as lucky, but it allowed for dinner with my parents. We couldn’t remember the last time we had dinner on my birthday. I was grateful to share a special meal with them.

baldy
baldy

And how often do you hear people sing “happy birthday’ in a funeral home? The place was packed with Terry’s (see below). They sang, “Happy Birthday to you…” and silently trailed off …”Happy Birth…day…to….you…..” as they realized where we were. Pretty funny! It was a sad occasion to be sure, but it was also wonderful to see my family, and simply be in their presence. What a blessed day I’ve had.

the clan
the clan