Willie Nelson, Brian Wilson, Vince Gill and roomful of Ukrainians

Cindy ArpFeature

Dan and I spent last weekend in my hometown, Chattanooga, Tennessee. We were there for two events, flip sides of each other: an end-of-life celebration and a beginning-of-married-life celebration. It was a poignant, exhausting couple of days.

Saturday was spent at Hamilton Funeral Home, attending the funeral of my second cousin Rex Card. Rex’s death was a surprise to the majority of the family, and we scrambled around spreading the news as we counted which cousins would be attending. As is the case with so many deaths, the sad occasion was a reunion of sorts for family members with our oldest cousin, Patsy, in attendance as well as three other couples and their spouses. We hugged, we talked, we exchanged memories and phone numbers.

Rex’s life had been a continuation of the life his parents lived: running two businesses, playing excellent golf, cracking jokes and, in his off hours, having a good time. Unknown to the family, in recent weeks Rex had developed some serious health issues for which the doctors could find no cause, and perhaps considering a likely outcome, Rex arranged for three songs to be played during his service: Willie Nelson’s version of Sinatra’s song (I did it) My Way, Vince Gill’s Go Rest High on That Mountain, and ending with Brian Wilson’s Don’t Worry Baby.

Cousins and spouses: Dan Arp (spouse) Rex Pepple. Sharon Wood, Alan Locke, Cindy Card Arp, James Card, Hugh Neil (spouse) seated Patsy Card Irwin, Sara Jo Card Neil

On his last night on earth, with failing kidneys and no cure in sight, Rex went out partying with his friends, choosing to “do it his way,” and at the end of Rex’s service, we listened to Brian Wilson’s lyrics: “Don’t worry baby, everything will turn out all right,” receiving a last gift of comfort and assurance from our cousin and friend.

The following day was a couples bridal shower, a new idea where both the bride and groom attend the bridal shower. This bride comes from a large, exuberant Ukrainian family; and when I say large I mean it in both contexts, large numbers of people and very tall (the bride’s brother is 6-8) people as well. They are friendly and warm, giving you a hug while welcoming you to the party. Dan and I were there with the groom’s family; dear friends with whom we are very close.

There was an astounding amount of exotic food; interesting and sometimes surprising, and in numbers so great that everyone was given a to-go box of food. There were babies everywhere; one adorable redheaded toddler roamed about, eliciting smiles and chuckles. It was a happy occasion; the bride and groom were a picture-perfect couple; she excited while he was quiet and smiling. Jokes abounded; blessings given. It was an occasion to look back upon fondly, a celebration of the beginning of a new life. Contemplation and sorrow on Saturday, reaffirmation and joy on Sunday.

Life. Death. Beginnings. Endings. Vince Gill’s lyrics to “go rest high on that mountain” ringing in my ears, I told myself to pay attention, pay attention to it all. We are in a delicate spider’s web, fragile, glittering, full of possibilities but always perilously close to unexpected disasters. Enjoy it, learn from it, try to spread joy and comfort where you can, so that, again in Gill’s words, you can “Go to heaven a-shoutin’; Love for the Father and the Son.”

Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell.


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