Last week, my 58-year-old cousin Angie traded her cancer-ravaged earthly body for a strong healthy one in Heaven.
Angie lived in North Carolina, the daughter of Mama's sister Bernice. I didn't see her often, but as children we shared some wonderful memories of times together at Grandma Britt's. Life and time took us different directions, and it wasn't until the past few years that Angie and I reconnected.
I was blessed to visit with Angie six weeks before her death. She had been placed on hospice care and was staying with her parents during her final days on earth. Barring a miraculous intervention by God, we all knew that Angie's illness was terminal. No one knew it better than Angie herself.
Angie and her mother shared with me how much my visit meant to them, but I truly believe that I was the one most blessed! Not really having been around Angie much at all in recent years, I felt a desperate need to know how Angie stood with God and the assurance that she would be in His presence when she left this earth. We were on our way home from our beach vacation, and while I knew the visit might be awkward and difficult, I just had to go see Angie and made arrangements with Bernice to stop by. Angie was wearing a nice dress with her thin hair fixed, looking gaunt but pretty and smiling, sitting on the couch awaiting my arrival. After a few hugs, Angie quickly dispelled any question about her eternal future at the beginning of my last conversation with her.
I learned a lot from Angie that day. Angie showed me what peace and grace and hope look like in a time of desperation because the saving faith in Jesus was the center of her life. She showed me strength of character and courage in the face of death. Angie shared with me that she had planned her entire funeral herself and, while still praying for a miracle, she was ready for whatever God had in store for her. We cried a little, but mostly laughed and shared and loved on each other, knowing very well that it would probably be our last time together on this side of eternity. I am so grateful for that visit and I left her home without a doubt in my mind that Angie was Heaven-bound, and that I WILL see her again someday.
When we learned of Angie's passing, my sister Barb and I threw together a quick plan for a 3-day road trip to North Carolina with Mama.
Mama needed to be with her grieving sister Bernice, as Bernice buried her only daughter.
Tender sister moments...
While the circumstances were tragic, it was wonderful getting to see our North Carolina peeps. Barb with our cousins Stevie and Vince...
Mama, in the middle, with her sister Shirley and brother Earl....
Aunt Shirley (her daughter Melanie in the background) and my uncle Jeffrey (even though he is my uncle, Jeffrey is actually a month younger than me...Mama is the third oldest of 10 siblings).
Mama with her niece Shelia...
A handful of the 27 first cousins on Mama's side....Barb, Lydia, me, Vince, Stevie, Tim (Angie's brother), and Melanie...
My aunt Violet in the middle (it was her birthday...and even though she's technically my aunt, she's only 2 years older than me and more like a cousin!), with my cousins Yvonne and Elaine....
Mama gifted Violet with a watch on her birthday...Violet adores Mama!
And we all adore Violet! She's sharing some words of wisdom to Angie's granddaughter...and when Violet speaks, we all listen!
Family friend Earl catches up with Mama and Melanie...
It really was a very special time together, despite the sadness in the air.
(That's Violet's husband/my uncle Eugene in the front, with Bernice, Vince, and Mama behind him)
After a wonderful meal provided by Bernice's church family, we followed the grieving parents Bernice and Perry and Angie's immediate family into the sanctuary to share the beautiful funeral service that Angie had planned. Angie was buried just outside of town, in a country cemetery sizzling with North Carolina heat. Thankfully it was a short graveside service, or we'd have been heat-stroking all over the place.
We visited a little while more at Bernice and Perry's home following the service. As is his tradition, my cousin Vince brought in big boxes of food for everyone.
As Angie's daughter Cristina put it, nothing says "love" more than plenty of fried chicken. That's a lotta love right there!
We finished off an exhausting but wonderful day sharing a seafood supper with Lydia and her husband Gene.
Nothing says "love" better to me than all-you-can-eat hushpuppies! This place is definitely one I'd love to visit again!
Mama was wiped out by the end of the day...well, we all were!
But it was a lovely day celebrating the life of one of ours....
Until we meet again.