Her mother was an incredibly intelligent woman, a trait that led to her position as the administrative head of the State Department of Migrant Education in Colorado, her home before she retired and escaped big city life for the rural communities of Tennessee. She was a woman who gladly translated for one of the local judges and assisted immigrants as they sought to obtain their citizenship papers . . . who had articles published in Reader’s Digest and did product research and wrote reviews for Amazon. And she was a godly woman whose love for the Lord served as a guiding force in everything she did. So her unexpected death was a blow to her son who had joined her in Tennessee, and to her daughter who had remained out west.
After conferring it was decided she would fly in and her brother would pick her up at the airport. They would drive back, arriving in time to keep their appointment with the funeral home so they could finalize their mother’s arrangements. But upon her arrival he was nowhere to be found . . . and he wasn’t answering his phone. So she did the only thing she could think to do in the moment—she called one of her friends back home to ask for advice. Should she call 911 so someone could check on him? This wasn’t like him . . . something had to be wrong. Her friend tried to reassure her. He probably overslept. Perhaps there was an accident on the interstate that delayed him, or unanticipated traffic—but to each hypothetical situation the response was the same. No. I know something’s wrong. So her friend suggested she rent a car and begin driving, saving the emergency call until she was closer to her destination.
Only moments later she learned her brother had died in a car accident on his way to the airport.
In shock and grief she began making phone calls, telling her friends back home what had happened. Calling the funeral home to let us know why she had missed her appointment . . . and to schedule another one. This time to make arrangements for two people instead of one. Her brother, whom she loved so dearly and so deeply, would not be here to support her in their shared loss. This man who quit his job and came to Tennessee to care for his mother after she was involved in a horrific car accident—who was so much like her in his love of reading and his spirit of generosity—was gone.
There are no words to describe the heaviness that settled upon our building when that call came in.
Less than four hours after she told her friends what had happened, two of them were on a plane headed to Tennessee. They could not allow her to face this alone and they moved heaven and earth to be with her. And in record time. The three of them arrived the following afternoon, one of them armed with paper and pen, ready to make whatever notes were necessary to refresh their memories afterwards. The other sat beside her throughout the conference. Each of them listened carefully, keeping up with the details they knew were eluding their friend. Each of them walked with her step by step through the process, asking just the right questions at just the right time . . . and offering her the moral support and strength she so desperately needed as she tried to comprehend the incomprehensible.
Now before I continue, I want to stop and tell you I asked permission to tell her story . . . to tell their story . . . because I have not often been privileged to witness such love and devotion between friends. And all three readily agreed.
The following day she came to see her mother and her brother, to say her final good-byes. They had been placed side by side, at the far end of one of our staterooms. I opened the door and the three of them entered, a friend to either side, the child/sister in between. They held hands as they slowly began to walk across the room. And as they drew closer, each friend wrapped an arm around her waist, supporting her as she prepared to experience one of the darkest moments of her life. And that’s the picture I want to leave with you. Three friends, there for each other, through the best of times . . . and the very worst.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.