Beulah Land I’m longing for you
And some day on thee I’ll stand
There my home shall be eternal
Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land
The Reverend began to sing in his beautiful and most commanding voice. He stood at the pulpit before he began and explained that my grandmother, my sweet Memaw, had asked him several times to sing this song at her funeral. That day was here. I felt like she was in the room, guiding the words gracefully to each of us. He started the song from behind her casket. As the song progressed he glided slowly away from the microphone and toward the front of the pews, closer to us. His bellowing voice carried all of the way across that little church. It was mesmerizing. We were in the same church my Memaw was baptized in. She knew the Reverend since they were both children.
I’m kind of homesick for a country
To which I’ve never been before.
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
For time won’t matter anymore.
He continued to belt out the song and stood before the congregation. He looked down at my aunt’s tear stained face. And then he looked over to my dad’s.
I’m looking now, just across the river
To where my faith, shall end in sight
There’s just a few more days to labor.
Then I will take my heavenly flight.
“This is why she asked him to sing,” I thought. He delivered it perfectly. He wanted everyone to hear those comforting words for her. He wanted everyone to understand for her. There was something so powerful about that moment for me. I’ll never forget it. As the song went back to the chorus I reflected back on my last visit to see my Memaw.
When we found out that Memaw wasn’t doing well a couple of months ago my sister, dad, and I took a road-trip to Georgia to see her. To get a chance to say goodbye to her. When I first saw her, all I could notice was all of the weight that she had lost. She couldn’t even stand anymore. I focused on that for just a second before she opened her mouth and her adorable Southern accent came out. “Mmm, Anna you look so purty! That’s a beautiful dress.” She may have not been able to do much, but her eyesight was still sharp as a tack. Any words in front of her or on the TV screen that weekend she read out loud. She could’ve read the dictionary and I would’ve been happy just to hear her accent. What I wouldn’t give to hear it again.
My favorite account from that weekend was when an anteater appeared on the TV. My Memaw’s eyes got large, “Lord! What is that?! What IS that? I reckon he’d like to take a bite outta me!” My sister and I couldn’t help but to laugh. She bashfully looked down and giggled right along with us. “Oh, me…” she said with a smile.
That weekend my sister and I also made sure to take a picture with her. After we took this one right here:
She took one look at it and said, “I look goooood!” And she did. She was so cute.
The day that we had to say goodbye to her I woke up with a lump in my throat. Leaving Georgia was always a sad affair for me growing up, but this was different. There wasn’t a time where my Memaw didn’t tear up, which always made it harder.
When they weighed my Memaw after she passed they said she had gotten down to 70lbs. Seventy. When I saw her, which was probably when she was around 85 pounds, she may have been fragile…but you couldn’t tell when you got one of her hugs. She always held you for that extra beat. She always made the comforting, “Mmm” sound. When we pulled apart her eyes were always water-filled. There was no doubt about her love. This time wasn’t any different, but my heart was so heavy. She looked at my sister’s pregnant belly and said, “Now you take care of that little baby.” Those were the last words that I ever heard her say.
The entire day of her funeral was a wonderful tribute to her legacy, which is why I have felt the need to write about it.
At the funeral parlor that morning I looked down at my dress, the same dress that Memaw had said I looked pretty in.
While I was standing in the middle of the room my purse knocked against a lady behind me. I turned to apologize, but she rested her hand on my shoulder and beat me to it. “I’m sorry!”
“No, I’m sorry,” I came back with.
“It’s alright, darlin’,” she said. Her eyes twinkled.
“Hi! I’m Bonnie’s granddaughter, Anna,” I began to introduce myself. My mother and sister joined in. I learned that the adorable lady was my Memaw’s friend since grade school. Eloise. She was also the one that introduced my grandma and my grandpa. She was part of the reason I was even alive today. It was wonderful to meet her.
You know what I heard the most from people that day about my Memaw? I heard about how kind she was. And sweet she was. I heard about how much she loved Jesus. And I heard about how if you were happy, she was happy. She just wanted everyone she loved happy. That’s my role model.
Before they closed the casket for the final time, the reverend said a prayer. I don’t remember everything he said word for word, but I remember this moment..”Bonnie isn’t here in the flesh anymore. Her spirit is in heaven now. This was just the vessel for this Earth…it was a beautiful vessel…” You could hear the tears in his throat. He paused to gather himself… She was beautiful and will be so missed.
There was something about seeing my three younger brothers all dressed up and carrying my Memaw’s casket to the hearse that hit me. The finality started to sink in.
On the way from the funeral parlor to the church we had a police escorted procession. As we drove through the flourishing tree-filled and winding Georgia roads I noticed all of the cars were pulled over, out of respect. I noticed a man on the side of the road with his hat off and over his heart. Then there was another. And several more yet. It was honestly moving. I love the South for this. There seems to be a slower pace to things. Life is in less of a rush…they take their time with the important things. And they were all paying their respects to my Memaw.
They began my Memaw’s service with a family member singing the song that my Memaw wrote herself. Within the first few notes of the song the memory of her still being alive, and singing this song by the piano on Thanksgiving, flooded over me. The fine piece of thread that was holding me together was tugged, and I unraveled. There wasn’t a dry eye in the entire place. It was so beautiful. The service ended with “Beulah Land” and you could tell my Memaw wanted all of these things for her funeral for a purpose. It was really very special.
Afterwards the church provided lunch to all of us out of the very kindness of their own hearts. It was the largest and most generous spread of homemade Southern food that I have honestly ever seen. The ladies stood proudly in front of their work and I couldn’t help but to feel so thankful. This was more evidence of how loved she really was. And don’t even get me started on the dessert table! I looked over at this 4 layer lemon cake with a delectable meringue topping and said out loud, to no one in particular, “That looks so good!” As I spoke the words a shorter elderly lady looked up at me smiling and put her hand on my arm for a beat and said, “I made that one!” “Well, I know what I’m having!” I smiled back as I took a piece.
My Memaw was 80 when she passed. She was a loving sister, mother, aunt, friend, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She loved Jesus with her whole heart and spoke of the Lord in everything that she did. She was a school bus teacher before she retired. She saw and endured many hardships, but her heart was always faithful. She was positive. She never let someone pay for her without a fight. She could do the jitter bug with the best of them. “Lord have mercy,” and “Lord do help!” were her most used phrases. And she was so so loved and will be so very missed.
The first day back at work after the long trip to Georgia and back felt surreal. I had only arrived home later that night before and thought that going to work would help keep my mind busy. As I sat there making a list of the things that I needed to do that day, it all hit me. The entire weekend was filled of troubles, that I won’t go into, but even the travel was hectic. It was the first moment where I was able to pause. Life was going on all around me as normal, as it should, but I couldn’t help but to feel like everything had changed. Things were back to normal…it was like a huge piece of my world didn’t just go missing….but it did. Things were dimmer. I could feel it and my heart was so heavy. It’s still heavy.
I wrote this so as to take a note from the southern way of living of slowing down a pace. Taking in these moments that I hope to not forget. I also wrote this for those of you who might be going through a hard time, feeling like they are trying to stay positive with the normal life going around them, while silently in pain. It’s good to get it on paper, to a friend, to anyone… as hard as that can be. This also a thanks to those of you who reached out to me. It meant more than you know. And lastly, but most importantly, I wanted to give you guys a small glimpse into the life of my grandmother. This doesn’t begin to do it justice, but it’s something. I love you guys. <3