My grandmother, sister and I have, to put it mildly, big personalities. We are not ones to go quietly into the night or morning or mid-afternoon. We love each other deeply, but even the most benign situations can lead to screaming matches, slamming doors and visits cut short. Therefore, an emotionally charged event can be a matter of national security; fighter planes are scrambled, the National Guard is organized, schools are cancelled.
When our mother passed away, my sister and I disagreed on what type of funeral service we should have for our mom. We were both beside ourselves with sadness, and I was six weeks pregnant, which usually lends to emotional stability. I wanted something simple and most of all I wanted it to be over. My sister had slightly more grandiose plans. No, I didn't think we could get Mahalia Jackson to sing live because I was pretty sure that she had been dead for decades. Nor did I think a horse drawn carriage and gold plated casket were necessary.
This ain't no Imitation of Life. This is life. Our life.
I am all for cremation. I will be cremated.
My sister is not down with cremation. We were at an impasse. So, we did what we do. We screamed at each other.
We got into a screaming match in the bathroom at Mercer Funeral Home that reached DeathCom 4 levels. Evidently, we thought that the bathrooms were a soundproof chamber as we were both mortified when the funeral director, the very sweet and understanding funeral director, came in to try to diffuse the situation. Now, we may not be afraid to throw down with each other, but we are not ones that want to make a scene in public. We were both mortified when she appeared and immediately zipped it and starting apologizing and yes ma'ming our asses off.
The very competent funeral director helped us come to something resembling a compromise.
I wanted it over and done with. I wanted to escape back to my house. My job. My life. I had to keep moving.
Two years later, the three of us were faced with planning yet another funeral, for our little brother. Zack and I were somewhat estranged at the time of his death, and this time it was my sister that was pregnant - eight and half months pregnant. I felt it was best that I stay out of the planning stages of this one. My sister is not afraid to cut a bitch under the best of circumstances and considering she was extremely pregnant I was afraid for my life and the lives of any innocent bystanders.
Therefore, I stayed in Charlotte and allowed my gran and sister to plan the type of service that they wanted. They planned a lovely service for the following Friday - the day after Thanksgiving. A week before my sister's due date.
I muddled through the week and focused on Conley. I was numb. I held it together until I would see a kid with baggy pants and a Yankees' baseball cap and then I would cry instantly - at the mall food court, Starbucks, walking in the park with Conley.
I beat myself up for not doing more, for always assuming that we would have more time, for not sending him the letter that I wrote our mom after she died, for not being a better sister when we were younger.
That no longer mattered. I had to keep going. Just keep going.
Tony, Conley and I left for West Virginia on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. As we crossed the Virginia border I got a call from my sister's husband. Angie was in labor and had just been admitted to the hospital.
We went straight to the hospital.
Angie was in labor for hours. And hours. My brother-in-law and I took turns apologizing to the nurses for her ranting. Her raving. Around 10:00pm the nurses informed me that she was not going to be having the baby any time soon and that I should go home and get some rest.
The nurses were wrong. My sister had to have a C-section around 2:00am because the baby was in distress. He had Group B strep and was immediately whisked away to the baby ICU.
I jetted to the hospital the next morning but could only see him through the glass. He was absolutely beautiful. Perfect mocha skin and the most fabulous jet-black curly hair in the history of hair.
She named him Jb'eon (after great-great grandfather Yokosuk) Zachary Barnett. She had planned for his middle name to be Anthony (not after my husband). I decided it was best to not mention the blanket I had monogrammed with J.A.B. Even at times like this an incorrect monogram is something that I can't really let go. I took solace in the fact that I could call him JZ, Lil' Hova. Holla.
My dad, whom I hadn't seen in 10 years, was in Angie's room when I walked in. I was polite to him even though he was higher than the Space Needle. When I mentioned getting a cup of coffee and he almost broke his neck to get me a cup, I even had to take pity on him. When he very sadly said, I know I have no right to ask, but if you wouldn't mind, I would love to have a picture of Conley. I gave him one.
However, once he started nodding off to the point of snoring my sister's husband took him home. He apologized and said that he hadn't gotten much sleep in the past week. This was probably true, but I am sure the handful of Valium didn't hurt either.
I had told my sister that I would write something about Zack for whomever gave the eulogy. There was still a debate as to whom would give the eulogy. My grandmother wanted an elder from the Jehovah's Witness congregation and Angie wanted a local youth pastor that actually knew Zack.
We laughed and cried as we remembered stories about our baby brother. We also decided on a song that we wanted to play. A song that we were not going to mention to our grandmother.
I left and told Angie to follow doctor's orders and just take care of herself and we could take care of everything the next day at the funeral. However, I was certain that if it took burning Bluefield Regional Hospital to the ground for Angie to attend the funeral that we would all be chanting, we don't want no water, let the motherfucker burn.
Angie called later in the day and said that the Witnesses had declined conducting Zack's service because he was not associated with the religion, and my grandmother had said that the youth pastor would absolutely not being doing it. This was because he was affiliated with another religion.
We had about 16 hours to find a suitable speaker.
My mother-in-law, whom had read what I had written about Zack, suggested that I do it. I absolutely did not want to do this. However, it would solve the problem. I was not brave enough to do it for my mom, but I was going to do this for Zack.
I called my sister and discussed it with her. She was on board. She said that a cousin of ours that was very close to Zack may want to say something too. I told her that I would arrive early and arrange everything with the funeral director.
I did. I gave him the CD with the song and told him that I was going to be speaking, and that after I was finished that this song should play. My grandmother had also picked out a song and that was going to play before I spoke. No one had confirmed that our cousin was going to speak and I did not see him in the crowd.
Therefore, I informed the funeral director that it would only be me. I took a deep breath and we entered through the special family doors and took our seats in the front row.
An eclectic crowd had gathered in our little powder keg...Jehovah's Witness, pot heads, pill heads and Ph.D's.
My grandmother, with the assistance of her country music loving sister, had picked some country song that I did not recognize. I was just relieved that it was not Vince Gill's Go Rest High on the Mountain. This is a family funeral favorite. It gets people wailing. I mean, mascara running, crumbling to the ground wailing. Wailing would not have been tolerated.
As the song ended, it was time for me to approach the podium. I wanted to vomit. I didn't. I just kept moving. I got choked up at first, but then I looked at my gran, whom had buried a child and a grandchild in two years, my sister, whom had given birth 36 hours before, and earlier that day had her baby whisked away to a bigger hospital 90 miles away, my husband, whom had been so incredibly strong for me, my friends and family whom had left their comfortable, warm houses, their families, and driven in the snow to support me, and then I saw my girl, she was in the hall with my mother-in-law, but I caught just a glimpse of her and I knew that I would get it together.
I read what I had written. I found my flow. I finished. I took my seat. The song my sister and I had chosen, Young Forever by Jay-Z started. Angie leaned over and told me that our cousin had prepared something and wanted to speak. This sent me into a momentary mental tailspin. I had a plan. I wanted to stick to the plan. No one had told me before that he wanted to speak. My mind was racing, and just as I was about to go Sargent Asshole, Tony nudged me. It was slight. He knew that I was about to flip my fucking wig. It snapped me out of it and I said, Sure. Of course.
I got the funeral director's attention and told him we were going to have one more speaker.
As Jay-Z was instructing to let it run, my gran reaches across my sister and her husband, slaps my knee and says, Sosha, I didn't know that you knew music like this.
Not a word to my sister...even gran knows that she'll cut a bitch.
My cousin looks like a cross between Jerry Garcia and the WVU Mountaineer. He is super smart, a beautiful writer, and loved Zack like few others. His words were short, sweet and reverent. He even quoted scripture.
However, in the middle of his beautiful dedication I feel a slight tap on my shoulder. Tap. Tap. Tap.
I turn around quickly and there is my cousin's estranged baby mama. She says that she has written something too and would like to read it. I was so shocked that I didn't have time to silently spiral out of control about how everything was deviating from my plan. I said, Sure. Of course.
I again signaled the funeral director and told him that we had one more speaker. I assured him that this would be the last. He nodded - kindly.
My cousin finished. I was proud. He had a button down and he even had shoes on. This is not a West Virginia joke. My man hates shoes, detests shoes, eschew shoes. His handle is Barefoot Inhaler (he is not asthmatic). Therefore, it was an ultimate sign of respect that he had laced up some kicks for the service.
Estranged baby mama lurched toward the podium. I did not look at my gran, but I knew that she was giving me a cut eye for the ages. As she walked toward the front dressed in a long black skirt, long black t-shirt, black Crocs and an XXL hooded Carhartt jacket, I thought, hmm, it's as if Wednesday Addams grew up to become a lumberjack.
Wednesday stood at the lectern, sniffled, wiped her nose with her sleeve, unfolded a frayed piece of notebook paper from her jacket pocket.
She introduced herself as baby mama of baby cousin and said she loved Zack very much. She did.
She cleared her throat. She began.
The day you died, I drank a couple of beers, I got high.
Jehovah Witnesses', pot heads, pill heads and PhD.'s became one. They all gasped in unison.
The day you died, I cried. And cried. And cried.
Holy shit. Is it a poem?
The day you died, I wrote this rhyme.
Oh! Not a poem. More of a rap. Taking a little liberty with the words actually rhyming. Got it.
Zack, don't worry, I didn't do crack. Cuz crack is whack.
I prayed that a sweet and merciful God would either make this end or at least allow the building to spontaneously explode.
I hope that you're with your mama, Starr. Havin' a drink at Heaven's bar!
And, a hush fell over the crowd.
The funeral director strode quickly to the front of the room and stopped the bleeding. God bless you sir, God bless your sweet, sweet heart.
Keep moving. Just keep moving.
I have a rule that I do not qualify my posts. I figure that if you are reading them that you understand they are in good humor and intentionally irreverent. However, since this particular post deals with my little brother's death I am going to break that rule and let you know that although there were some crazy and even humorous details surrounding the actual funeral, that the loss of my little brother is as far from funny as possible. Zack had a good sense of humor and I think that he would have appreciated this, and known that it was not disrespectful. I may have disagreed with many of the choices that he made, but that does not mean that I didn't love him and that I don't miss him everyday. I thought we would have more time to work out our differences. If my mom and brother had to die I am certainly glad that we were shown that life truly does goes on with the birth of my daughter and the birth of my sister's son. They are all that is right with the world.
Here are my parting words to my baby brother:
My family and I would like to thank you all for coming, for your thoughts, your prayers, your kind words and your support.
We appreciate the love and respect that you are showing Zack and us. Therefore, I won’t insult anyone by telling you that Zack was a saint. He had his problems and troubles. However, that is all I am going to say about that because it is sad enough that we all have to be here. Instead, I would like to tell you a little of the Zack we knew, my beautiful baby brother, our beautiful boy.
Zack was born into a family full of strong, opinionated, stubborn women. However, he adapted – sometimes too well. When Zack was little he would sometimes sneak off. We didn’t really have to look for him because it usually did not take long at all for us to hear a familiar click-click sound and then we would see Zack strutting down the hall wearing gran’s stilettos, several strands of her pearls and a huge smile.
One of the most special of the ladies in his life was his sister Angie. Zack and Angie always had a special bond. Angie had imaginary friends when she was little and as you may know, Angie is a talker, so she could often be found chatting to a large circle of invisible kids. Zack would follow her around, looking under beds, in closets, just trying to find all these friends.
When Zack was old enough Angie started including him in her playtime. This often meant that he was subjected to tea parties, dolls and dress up. He would usually suffer gladly just so he could play with his big sister. Angie could be rather bossy during playtime (well, during any time), but Zack usually just did what she said. However, there was one time that he got a little fed up with being told what to do and decided to attack Angie.
Problem was, was he was three years younger than Angie, and, Angie has always been, well, tough. He grabbed Angie from behind and tried to wrestle her down. She simply flipped him over her back and onto the couch where she promptly sat on him and started slapping the fire out of him. He was getting the daylights beaten out of him, he could barely breathe, but he kept yelling, “Do you give up, Angie? Do you give up?”
However, there was one time that Zack was the one on the winning end of a physical altercation, but it was entirely by accident. He and Angie were playing baseball with some other kids. Angie was the hind catcher and Zack kept telling her she needed to back up. Well, in typical Angie fashion, as soon as you told her that she needed to do something it immediately meant that she was not going to do it.
Zack swung and the bat smacked Angie square in her jaw. Her tooth flew out of her mouth. She came running up the back yard with a mouth full of blood, yelling that Zack had hit her with a bat. She failed to mention the baseball game. Zack came trailing right behind her, crying his eyes out. He felt so bad, and he kept sobbing, I told her to back up, I told her to back up.
Zack was use to being the man in all of our lives. Therefore, when my husband and I first started dating six-year old Zack was perhaps a little threatened. We were young, in love and totally unaware that anyone else was in the world, and as you can imagine two 18 years in love was totally boring to a six year old.
Zack wanted Tony to play ball or watch him ride his bike the whole time he was there to visit. I would run him off, but then he would take his little six year old fury out on Tony by waiting until I would leave the room and then diving behind a chair and wing Matchbox cars at Tony’s head. He would stop as soon as Gran or I entered the room. I am sure Tony wanted to throw them back at him, and probably did a couple of times, but he didn’t tell gran or me until years later that Zack use to do that.
The final story about Zack that I will leave you with is that he once wrote an essay for school titled, “If I could be anyone in the world”. Zack said that he wanted to be the Incredible Hulk because the Hulk was big, strong, green and had his own clothing line. He said that the Hulk was “the man” and that he “he had it going on”. However, he said what he most admired about the Hulk was that although he was the biggest and the strongest man around that he didn’t mess with anyone unless they messed with him.
It is true that Zack had his demons . However, Zack, like the Hulk, didn’t mess with anyone. He had a kind, loving, and tender heart. He was always quick with a smile or a hug. He was polite and mannerly. He is gone too soon, but we hope he rests peacefully. We will miss and love you always, our beautiful boy.
|Zack (around 3 years old)|
|The last picture I have of all of us together: Zack, me, Tony, mom, Angie, gran (Conley family reunion 2007, Tazewell, VA)|
|My favorite picture of Zack and me (2004, Tazewell, VA)|
|Lil' Hova (Princeton, WV 2011)|
|JB and Conley (Princeton, WV 2011)|
|The Barefoot Inhaler