When Kim Ray walked into the office of the funeral home in Waynesboro and took her place behind the counter for the first time, she wasn’t a Ray. She was a Vencion, the 22 year old daughter of James Edward and Clara Nell Vencion. And a total novice when it came to working in a funeral home. It was a condition that didn’t last long.
Six years later she was a Ray, the wife of another Waynesboro employee, Jerry Ray. And eventually the mother of Anna. And eventually the doting grandmother of Vencion. All while still working as the secretary in Waynesboro, still serving the people of Wayne County, still being a pillar of her church and a good, decent human being.
Sadly, all of the above, and so much more, came to an abrupt end on Friday, June 24th.
Kim’s sudden death left her family with so many unanswered questions and so much pain. And a four year old who had to be told Mama Kim wouldn’t be coming home again. To their credit, they didn’t try to shield him from the truth of her illness and they didn’t try to hide their own grief. But while time moved far too quickly from her diagnosis to her death . . . to her burial and beyond . . . it also afforded them the privilege of seeing their loss through Vencion’s eyes . . .
As is the custom, once Kim’s service ended the procession inched its way to the cemetery. Upon arriving the pallbearers placed her casket over the grave, stepping back to allow the minister a moment to say a few words and have one last prayer before her casket and vault were slowly lowered into the earth. It was then Roger Balentine, the manager in Waynesboro and Kim’s friend and co-worker for literally decades, motioned to Vencion and Jerry. He stood holding a shovel and asked if Vencion would like to put some dirt into the grave before the equipment did the rest. With his grandad’s help, Vencion grasped the shovel handle, dug into the soil, and gently sprinkled a small amount across the lid of the vault. After repeating the process a few more times, they moved away to let the cemetery crew finish the job . . . but not before he found an appropriate stick to place in the grave. After all, there was a whole collection of sticks at Kim and Jerry’s, all compliments of Vencion. What better final gift for his Mama Kim?
In the days that have followed, Vencion has frequently asked Jerry if they could visit Mama Kim in the “flower garden”. That’s how his young eyes see the cemetery. It isn’t a place of death. It’s a place of beauty. And a place that has generated an abundance of questions regarding the other inhabitants and the monuments marking their final resting places. His grandad took him to see where Mama Kim’s family members are buried—something he found amazing . . . because his name was on the monument. V-E-N-C-I-O-N. His name!
Just a few days after the funeral he walked in to find his mother in tears and, being the tender-hearted child that he is, asked her why she was crying. Again, Anna didn’t try to hide her grief or assure him that everything was all right. It wasn’t, and she shared with her child that she was sad—sad because she missed Mama Kim. That was when Vencion emphatically reminded her that she shouldn’t be sad—Mama Kim was with Jesus now. He knew his Mama Kim well enough to know if she couldn’t stay with them, that was where she would want to be. And he found comfort in that.
You can tell me all day long this innocent child just doesn’t understand . . . he’s too young to grasp Death and its finality—and I will tell you all day long he most assuredly does. His family has acknowledged Death as a normal part of Life—and by their example they are teaching him one of the most difficult lessons he will ever be forced to learn—that Life and Death are joined together—and you cannot have one without the other. In the years to come he can add that to the lessons his Mama Kim taught him through her examples of kindness and generosity . . . of joy and love. Their time together may have been brief, but she made sure it counted.
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.