It was a somber, cancer weekend days before Halloween, and nothing is more ghoulish than cancer. I attended my brother Paul’s wonderful wife Shelia’s (Claudson) funeral and later that evening, a cancer benefit for sweet Teri (Barhaugh) Patton.
Teri is a long-time fitness trainer I’ve known since my first Cody summer, when she was a shy, raven-haired, 15-year-old beauty delivering Cokes at Bud’s Drive in. She was in Billings for a final chemo treatment and thankfully is expected to make it through. The older I get though, that old song, “Only the Good Die Young” rings more true.
It’s not just a cliché that cancer eventually touches every family. We were cancer-free until ’05, when we lost beautiful sister Wanda to ovarian cancer, then sister-in-law Marti’s only brother Leroy to oral cancer last December. Cancer has roots all the way to hell.
It’s hard to label a funeral as poignant, but Shelia’s was. Everything — from Pastor Mark Price tearing up in spite of his countless funerals, the perfect montage of family photos and perfect music selections — seemed blessed.
Dan Miller, his daughter Hannah and Wendy Corr’s voices were angelic, particularly with the hauntingly-beautiful, “How Great Thou Art.” That song always touches, but at a funeral like Shelia’s, it reaches right into your heart and squeezes. The stanza, “… the sound of rolllling thunder …” is the emotional grabber for me. I couldn’t see him from my end of the pew, but it was also when Paul broke down.
The perfectly organized montage of family photos was a fitting finale: Paul and Shelia’s youthful beginnings and marriage 44 years ago; only son Rusty and adopted gift-from-Heaven Amber when they were little; and grandsons Sammy and Noah — Shelia’s joy. I was even in a few photos back when I had muscles and a mullet.
Paul asked days earlier if I would speak in place of Steve Follweiler, one of their oldest and dearest friends, who feared he’d become too emotional. It wasn’t my first eulogy, but funerals are a tough humor gig. Yet, I’ve oft observed how humor seems greatly welcomed amidst somber reflections.
Pastor Mark made a grave error when, just before stepping aside, he admonished the speakers, “And don’t touch the microphone.” I went next-to-last, just before Paul, and felt compelled to begin by giving that microphone a surprisingly loud tap while staring Mark down. Hey, preacher or not, thou shalt not order such a flagrant directive. Since I noticed Mark leading the laughter, I’m confident it won’t be counted against me on judgment day.
My theme was Shelia’s remarkably serene and calming nature ever since I met her 44 years ago. I rarely saw her angry, although her sister/best friend Rita tells me there were a few exceptions when I stayed with Paul and Shelia my first summer.
Apparently, I had somehow ruined her grandmother’s prized, hand-crafted quilt. I don’t quite recall, but Rita assures me, “Oh, believe me, Shelia was mad about that one.” I do remember inattentively crashing her beloved, red and white Plymouth Barracuda into a boulder beside a car wash drive-thru. As I eulogized, I don’t even recollect any overt anger over that one, which I attribute to being grandfathered into their “honeymoon period.”
Pastor Mark jokingly calls me “the inappropriate brother,” and the rare times Shelia voiced displeasure was after I’d make an untimely, inappropriate joke. One such witty-but-wrong remark was in the CMA church foyer after communion service. She definitely got a little testy, and it’s conceivable I deserved it.
A positive to the negatives of funerals is meeting previously unfamiliar relatives. Shelia’s personable cousin, Linda Ferguson, introduced herself as a big “My Lousy World” fan, which she spreads around her Brighton, Colorado, area.
She said I’ve developed a fan base there, so I suspect the Denver Post will soon come a-courting. I’ll entertain offers, but will make it clear I’ll be going home with the newspaper that brought me to the dance.
Paul said Shelia never once complained throughout her many months of painful deterioration. She knew where she was going and smiled glowingly when speaking of it. About a month ago after one of the “any day now” prognoses, Paul called and said Shelia wanted to give me a hug. It may have been our first ever, since Bloughs and Claudsons aren’t traditional huggers.
Tiny and jaundiced in her bed, she still smiled when I gently gave her that final hug. Her last words to me were, “I’ll be so happy to see you in heaven.” She smiled one more time when I answered, “I know, and I promise not to say anything inappropriate.”