Death isn't the end
By Mike Haynes
As I left a Pampa church July 11, a longtime family friend said, “We’ve been to too many funerals lately, haven’t we?”
I agreed with her. The friend, about my age, had attended three of the same memorial services I had the past six months.
Of course, death is part of life, and as I get older, I put on a tie and black coat more often because many of those passing away are in my parents’ generation or in my own. They’re people I knew well.
My mother, Joyce Haynes, 83, and her cousin, Vester Smith, 91, died within a day and a half of each other last December. (See http://amarillo.com/lifestyle/faith/2014-01-03/cousins-inspire-after-death). Mom spent most of her life in my hometown of McLean, and Vester graduated from high school there before settling in Higgins.
I suppose the death rate in my hometown isn’t any higher than in other area towns, but it seems like it. Les Darsey, 85, dad of my classmate Mike, died last October. R.C. Parker, 90, a longtime DPS officer, died in March. He was the father of my classmate Brad, who also became a highway patrolman. Colleen Mertel Sherrod, 88, a fixture at my home church, died in June. I had played alto sax in the Tiger band next to her daughter. No telling how many of my family’s shoes her first husband had repaired before his death or how many times I had watched her second husband roping calves.
On June 25 my uncle, Sam Haynes, died at 85 after a long health decline. Like losing my mother broke up a close family unit, losing Uncle Sammy hit his wife Linda and huge family hard and broke up the lifelong pair of Sammy and Johnny. My uncle and dad had worked together as ranchers, played multiple sports (often trying to beat each other), sang in the church choir (Sam a tenor, Dad a bass) and volunteered for just about every organization in town.
On July 9, Jack Bailey of Pampa died suddenly at his home. At this point in my life, Jack’s age, 74, seemed to need an “only” in front of it. A Pampa educator for decades, Jack was another McLean graduate. Judging from the number of mourners and from the remarks of his friends, John Curry and the Rev. Jerry Lane, he made quite a mark on Pampa.
Jack’s granddaughter recalled when her supervisor at a local store, a black woman, told her about her grandfather. The supervisor had been one of the first black students bused to school as segregation ended in Pampa. The young girl was terrified to even step off the bus at her new school.
As soon as her feet hit the ground, she said, a tall white man offered his hand and said, “Welcome. I’m Jack Bailey, and if there ever is anything I can do to help you, just let me know.” Jack, who didn’t take himself too seriously, knew how to give serious encouragement as a school administrator.
It seems unfair when someone younger than you dies. Sherry Houchin, 54, had been my wife Kathy’s elementary school friend in Amarillo. An attorney and world traveler, Sherry died in Dallas in March. Billie Winton, 86, was the mother of Kathy’s friend Leslie. Billie had lived a full life at her death in June, but many still will miss her smile and wit.
We just passed the first anniversary of the death of Dale Robinson, who died at age 50, leaving his wife and two young sons. His memorial was one of three for Amarillo College employees I attended last summer.
It’s so unfair. But so inevitable. And if it isn’t easier for Christians, at least it’s more hopeful. I love 1 Cor. 15:55: “Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?” It isn’t the end.
With so much loss around me lately, I was grateful as I read Amarillo College’s 2014-15 Common Reader book, “Blue Hole Back Home.” Joy Jordan-Lake’s novel about southern teenagers and racial bigotry quotes a poem by poet and minister John Donne. He wrote in the early 1600s:
“Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; … One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and Death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die!”
My heart quivers as I apply that to those I love. But I believe it.