In my last column, I wrote about some of the sad experiences of Memorial Day for our family. I also pointed out that our brother-in-law, who had passed away on Memorial Day, had left a life of suffering for a day of rejoicing that will never end.
James Freeman Bowles was married to Cecelia, my wife’s sister, for 54 years. He had been in declining health for a couple of years, but we were expecting him to be around for at least a couple more years. On Friday, before he died, we had spoken by phone, and he told me they had given him six months. Attempting to encourage a fighting spirit, I related to him that I had seen people who lived for years, following a similar diagnosis.
My conviction was, and is, that “they” don’t know when someone is going to die. Freeman and I agreed, almost saying the words in unison, “Only the Good Lord knows the day and the hour.”
The Good Lord knew that, instead of six months, “Freebird” only had three days left to suffer in this life. On Monday, he went to be with Jesus.
The next Saturday, a group of family and friends gathered at a rural cemetery, in Walnut Cove, North Carolina, to remember him and celebrate his life on this earth - and what a life it was. Having lost his father as a young teenager, he grew up learning how to make the best of every situation. He was a hard worker. He loved “See-ya” and their three children, and he always provided well for them. He was a man of his word, sometimes very opinionated, and very loyal. He found humor in almost every conversation; he was such a fun lover.
Pastor Sam Duran from the church next door to the old Bowles home place, where Freeman was living when he died, and I told some Freeman stories there in the graveyard. We laughed, and we cried, grieving in different ways. We were reminded that Freebird didn’t want a lengthy service. Pestered by a swarm of bugs - I think maybe they were flying termites - we wondered if they had been sent to hurry us along.
Trent, one of the sons, had fashioned a beautiful box for the cremated remains. In addition to the name of the deceased, there were pictures of a tomato plant, a pair of dancing shoes, and a rooster. “Rooster” was one of his nicknames; he enjoyed “shagging” to beach music; and he loved a ripe tomato fresh from the garden.
After I spoke, our daughter from Wilmington sang. Then Pastor Sam shared The Word. Words of committal were spoken “...ashes to ashes, dust to dust...” Later Sean, Trent, and Jamie buried the remains at the grave of Freeman’s parents. That evening and the next day, many of us sat around the house and shared stories - sometimes crying, sometimes doubling over with laughter. Freeman would have loved it. Maybe the Lord parted the curtain and let him watch.
All of us could learn from his life. Work hard. Love those around you, especially family. Be true to your word. Enjoy life. Learn to laugh at yourself and to situations around you. Trust in the Lord.
The last one is the most important. Although Freeman didn’t make a big production of his faith, he was very adamant in his belief that Christ died for him and that he was ready to meet the Lord.
We don’t know all there is to know about heaven, but I wonder if maybe, just maybe, Freeman is somehow creating a little more laughter in that beautiful place.
Steve Playl, columnist, college instructor, retired pastor, and chaplain, may be reached at email@example.com