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My dad has a long driveway that leads to the highway, and I usually turn the car around to drive out. But on Sunday, my husband and I backed out so we could watch my dad walk into his house.
He would not let me take him to the airport Monday morning. He said it would be too emotional, and he may not board the plane. I needed him to get on that plane.
Growing up, he referred to himself as the “friendly neighborhood undertaker.” People knew he was only a phone call away, and while no one wanted to make that call, he comforted people when it became necessary to do so.
My dad was the first person to teach me that everyone has a soul, a story and, if they are lucky, someone who loves them and wants to make sure their legacy is secured and protected. He taught me how to talk to people about hard things, which has served me well in my career.
I had my share of teasing as a child from kids who thought I lived in the funeral home or had caskets in my garage. Neither were true, but I did know the ins and outs of the funeral home, both when it was on Pender Street and when it moved to Tarboro Street. I thought of the people who worked there as family. I still do.
It is sometimes difficult to be the child of a mortician. Weekends did not belong to our family; they belonged to the families who needed my dad. Vacations sometimes were canceled at the last minute, and our packed bags were taken out of the car before he drove off to meet with people who were dealing with the worst moment of their lives. It taught me to be humble. It taught me that there was dignity in living in service of others.
My dad was sick for a long time before he decided to close the funeral home last year and prepare to move to Las Vegas. His whole life has been about taking care of other people, and he had a tough time realizing that he needed to take care of himself. As late as last week, he wanted to make sure people knew he had not abandoned them or his adopted home of Wilson. I told him I would handle it.
Dad, thanks for being a “friendly neighborhood undertaker.” Thank you for setting an example of being your best, especially when people are at their lowest. Have fun in Vegas. You deserve it.
LaMonique Hamilton Barnes is a reporter and copy editor for The Wilson Times. She also blogs about arts and culture at iamlamonique.com.