It was three months ago that Julie was laid to rest. It occurred to me that I never "officially" shared my thoughts on the funeral and the decisions leading up to it...
Decisions, decisions, decisions!
When Julie passed away, I had no problem in deciding where the visitation would be...Julie had picked Barkett's Funeral Home for her parents.
Burial? Again, not a problem. We had already buried our daughter and Julie's brother, David (MY brother-in-law), at Green Lawn Memorial Gardens.
Julie and I weren't "church-goers". I'm NOT saying that we did not have religious beliefs, it's just that we weren't into "organized religion". Julie was raised a Jehovah's Witness...even helped to build a Kingdom Hall in her time. Julie, in conjunction with her family, had arranged to have the funeral for her parents conducted at the Kingdom Hall in Cairo. Julie had no objections to a Jehovah's Witness ceremony for herself, but circumstances dictated otherwise.
So, who should officiate? I had an immediate thought, but did not express it. I wanted to let Julie's family make the decision. It was Rachel who came up with the idea...the SAME idea as my unvoiced one. Who better than Julie's colleagues...especially two in whom she had taken a personal interest during her last year "on the job" - James Gibson and Lorenzo Nelson!
And so it was.
When I contacted James and Lorenzo, they accepted without hesitation...honored to be asked to help lay their friend to rest. They asked me what I wanted in the way of a service. "Funerals are YOUR expertise, not mine" was my ready response. I told them that I had a couple of special songs that I wanted played and that I would have a eulogy read on my behalf. Other than that...it was up to them...whatever they felt appropriate.
Where to have the funeral...THAT was the problem!
The obvious choice was the Cairo Jr/Sr High School gymnasium, but I had two problems with that:
Then I got a telephone call from Cairo School Superintendent Bill Rogers...informing me that the District would close for Julie's funeral. Bill expressed his concern that Barkett's would be too small for the funeral and offered the use of the Cairo Jr/Sr High School gymnasium. I expressed my appreciation for the offer and told him that I would get back to him with whatever I decided.
When I hung up, I had to smile. Not about the offer of the gym; I was still "torn" on that. But, the fact that the District was closing for Julie's funeral...I knew that would have pleased Julie. Julie had "raised hell" on more than one occasion in the past when the District had not closed for the funeral of an employee's loved one. She felt that it was the least they could do, and, for them not to was the ultimate disrespect. Julie would get her day!
The funeral service itself...
I could not have been more pleased. In fact, as I told everyone afterward, I KNEW that Julie Newell was smiling in heaven...that JULIE REALLY LIKED THAT FUNERAL!
I have been to too many funerals where the eulogy was delivered by a minister who obviously didn't really know the deceased...speaking in general, impersonal terms. Not so at Julie's funeral. All the ministers shared heart-felt personal examples of how Julie had impacted their lives. Paul McDaniel remembered Julie's favorite color, wearing a purple shirt in her honor. James Watkins and J.L. Posey cited memories, stressing Julie's culinary accomplishments...evidently the way to a minister's heart is through his stomach!
The "edge" to the service was provided by James Gibson and Lorenzo Nelson. They had not told me in advance that they were going to relate their personal employment struggles with the District, but what more appropriate tribute to the fighting spirit of Julie Newell! They presented their stories in a "professional manner", stressing the positive...Julie's encouragement and support in their time of need...her "ministering to the minister." To their credit, they did NOT dwell on the negative, although Julie might not have been so kind! But, I do know their tributes "made her day"!
And speaking of tributes...
Julie's lasting contributions to state-wide organizations were honored by the presence and comments of Ken Swanson, President of the Illinois Education Association, and Louie Kosiba, Executive Director of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. None too shabby for a little ol' Cairo girl, a product of the Cairo Public Schools.
And at the roots of Julie's activist career, the members (past and present) of HER union...the Cairo Association of Educational Support Professionals. To have so many of her colleagues - HER FRIENDS - ascend the stage in solidarity to pay their final respects was special indeed.
Oh...that final decision...to accept the Superintendent's offer of the gym.
I still struggled with that...my objections remained. Granted, I no longer had to "ask" for use of the gym...it was being offered. Also, most of the folks that had caused Julie so much pain had moved on AND occasions of this nature put you more in touch with thoughts of mortality, atonement, and forgiveness. So, I was leaning toward acceptance...although human frailty was still making my decision a prickly one.
And, then, unexpectedly, the answer came to me...the mitigating factor that outweighed my previous concerns. Granted, the motivation was not as altruistic as the former, but it worked for me.
By having the funeral at Cairo High School, Julie would complete the circle of our life. "Our" life together began when I opened the front door to Cairo High School for her when she applied for a secretarial position. After being "expelled" from Cairo High School in 1995, Julie was being "invited" to return...to be properly honored. And, fittingly, "our" life together would end when I helped carry her casket through the door of Cairo High School...to her final resting place.