Foremost in our minds from the time we receive the first call at a death is our service to the family. When the family was our own, we were on both sides.
On January 18, Dons sister Mildred died three days following what appeared to be successful heart surgery. Mildred and her husband John lived in Jackson.
When we received the message that Mildred was experiencing difficulty, we immediately began to make ready to leave for Jackson. Before we could get away, however, the call came that Mildred had died. We hastened to Jackson to be with John and with Mildred’s children Phil and Myra. When we arrived there, they were waiting for Don to ask if our personnel could bring Mildred to our funeral home for all the preparation and if we could serve as the funeral director from our funeral home. We could and of course we would.
Don set about making the necessary contacts. In the midst of our own heart-wrenching grief, we found a measure of comfort in being able to help those we love who were on unfamiliar ground. We spent time grieving with John, Myra, and brother William Lowe (Don and I are among the few close family members who do not call his brother Bill.). Phil had left to go home to Camden, Arkansas, to bring back to Jackson his wife Denise and their children, Jennifer, 18, from college, and John,16.
As we were there in John and Mildred’s home, I felt a tugging to go again into Mildred’s beautiful bathroom and dressing room. I longed to touch the things she had touched, things I am sure she had placed "just so" as she left expecting to be gone a few days. Soon I realized we must think of needs for her burial. Myra and I looked through her many lovely things, selecting several which seemed appropriate. John and Myra selected special items of jewelry to be used and later removed.
Mildred’s style, I have often thought, could best be described as "well stated elegance." She was a master at achieving this look in her personal appearance, home decorating, and food preparation and presentation. A meal in their home was an experience. Mildred was up to any occasion. Her dignity came through strongly in her bearing, yet it was a pleasure to be with her. She could be such fun! I often envied the way she threw her head back and laughed until tears literally rolled down her cheeks as she enjoyed her mirth. A hearty laugh is a great relief and wonderful relaxation, and Mildred’s laughter brought an infectious happiness.
Don and I felt we must return home. As we left in the early morning hours, William Lowe and his family remained with John and Myra. Bill Jr. sat at the kitchen table preparing the obituary to be faxed here. As we drove home, we pondered the many questions of what had happened and why. We expressed our disbelief, speculation, and the other emotions which attend the death of a loved one. We worked too at remembering details to be decided and tasks to be done and we reminisced about Mildred.
Mildred enjoyed telling stories of their childhood. Don was always her "little brother" and for almost forty-five years, I had been her "little brother’s wife."
Mildred was very pleased when Don was elected President of the Mississippi Farm Bureau, and she was always interested in our activities. She was my mentor in all areas. For one of ‘the last functions she helped plan, we went to a very fine restaurant by appointment to discuss arrangements and menu. When we left, I was completely confident all was in order. She called the next day to say she did not feel duck was what we would like for the entree at the luncheon. She thought duck was more in keeping with an evening meal! Whatever was fine with me. No point was too insignificant for her consideration. At her death our friends over the state who had met Mildred were kind in their comments on their fondness of her.
Mildred was responsible for many of the remembrances Don gave me during our three-and-one-half-years’ courtship. My first orchid was a perfect purple one, the largest I have ever seen. Mildred brought it down from Memphis for my high school senior piano recital. Later she selected the pearls Don gave me which I wore for our wedding announcement picture. Mildred’s not being in our wedding is still a disappointment. She became ill and had emergency surgery the morning of the wedding.
Beth, Bob, and Don were on the telephone endlessly throughout Sunday discussing casket selection, time frame, and all those other details we help families work through. Susan and her daughters Mary Beth and Joanna thoughtfully prepared lunch for Miss Emma, Andy, Linda, Chase, Beth, Bob, Brett, Sally Kate, Don and me, Like other families when a death-occurs, we yearned to be together as much as possible.
The Waller family is close. Through the years Mildred came home often, and Don and I had enjoyed the easier contact our eight-year residence in Jackson had brought with Mildred and John and William Lowe and Carroll and their families. All the Waller grandchildren have grown up with strong family ties. Along with our own shock, we were each feeling for the others. Our children were concerned for their father as he steadfastly worked through helping notify extended family members and coordinating the details. William Lowe was doing the same in Jackson. They each wanted to be of help to John, Phil, and Myra. At the same time they were both feeling the impact of the death of this very special sister.
Using a good recent photograph as a guide, a beautician friend spent many hours Sunday arranging Mildred’s hair and applying her make-up and nail polish. When make-up is an important part of a person s appearance, we ask the family to bring it from home. We had forgotten this, but the beautician, a real professional in this field, did a wonderful job. The funeral home staff can accomplish much of this detail, however, some personalities come through strongly in details of make-up and clothing, and every effort is made to seek and find this individuality.
Beth, Bob, Don, and I had a much needed time of closure there at the funeral home on Sunday afternoon as each sought to tuck, smooth, and place every detail of Mildred’s person in the casket until we were satisfied she would be pleased with the overall appearance.
Susan and Beth left Sunday afternoon to go to be with their cousin Myra as she awaited the arrival of her husband Herb and their children, Ariel, 13, and Jay, 10. Being within the family, we were reminded of the stress in bringing everyone together. While Phil traveled to get his family and return to Jackson, Myra was talking by telephone with Herb planning clothes for herself, Ariel, and Jay. Even when wardrobes seem ample, the special consideration of appropriateness causes concern for a funeral—perhaps a carryover from the days when only black or dark colors were worn. I had my own private laugh as I dressed I—knew I was correct in every detail. Mildred had planned my clothes!
Don and I had let it be known through our church that we along with Miss Emma would be at our home on Sunday night. This enabled us to be with our dear friends and relatives here. These too were grieving Mildred’s death and included were childhood and school day friends.
Don, Miss Emma, and I returned to Jackson Monday morning. The rest of our family also made their way to Jackson early that sad day with subdued spirits.
Mildred’s love for beautiful wood was honored in the selection of her casket, a fine mahogany inlay with a flat top. For the casket, Myra planned a simple bouquet of peach-colored roses with smilax brought together with ribboned streamers. Two arrangements of roses and spring flowers were placed at each end.
John and Mildred belong to Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson. The building is of contemporary design. It serves its people well. The family received at the church Monday prior to the service. For visitation the casket was placed before a south glass wall in the vault-ceilinged great hall. With the sun streaming in and the barren trees just outside, the setting and conditions were as perfect as can be at such a time.
Mildred had told me that the church uses only natural decorations. The ladies of the church had placed arrangements of white amaryllis and hyacinths throughout the foyer and halls. The friends surely knew Mildred! One told me of how she and others had dusted, waxed, and polished the pews. Other friends were serving the family lunch in a small sitting room adjacent to the hall. They graciously included not only Mildred and John’s family but cousins who had come from far and near. Their deep love for Mildred was shown in their warmth and caring for her family.
The pastor and staff spent time with John, Myra, and Phil, counseling and assisting them in planning the funeral service as a celebration of Mildred’s life. As a family, we appreciated the opportunity to worship as we came together to say our own personal farewell.
An officer of Deposit Guaranty Bank make appropriate comments on Mildred’s 38 years of faithful service there before her retirement as vice president. Bill Jr. gave a eulogy; I was unable to hear, but as he smiled and the congregation chuckled, I wondered which childhood episode he had chosen to share in his tribute to his Aunt Mildred. Later Don told me it was of the Sunday the grandchildren sat lining the long table at their Waller grandparents. As they began to ask for more iced tea and were served, they complained that the tea did not taste quite right and a howl went up. Aunt Mildred said, "Y'all be quiet and drink that tea!" Grandmother Waller felt she should check on her grands and discovered that in the confusion, someone had served the children red vinegar used in preparing the salad that day.
The scripture readings, minister’s comments, and musical selections were all comforting. The service was personal and fitting. Because our staff were busy here, friends in funeral service came to assist Bob with the service. In keeping with her experience at the funeral home, Beth had been greatly involved in the minute details as well as the overall planning. This was very difficult for her. Certainly she wanted to be just a family member, but, until the service was actually underway, she was not permitted this release. Beth and Mildred had always been especially close. Beth was born on Mildred’s birthday.
John and Mildred were happily anticipating their 25th wedding anniversary. They were so right for each other. He supported her in all her desires including her desire to be closely involved with her family. They spent their lives together in Jackson. Sometime ago they had wisely discussed burial locale and decided upon Jackson. Further, they had made the decision for entombment at Parkway Memorial Cemetery. The committal service there in the center of the beautiful mausoleum was a first for us as a family and as funeral director. We were grateful for the ministers who once again brought consolation during this time of closure.
Mildred’s five nephews and great nephew William were her pallbearers. Many of her faithful friends were at the home preparing for serving the food which had been brought by friends. This traditional serving of the meal provided an opportunity for us to come together for a closely knit fellowship. John’s daughter Bridgette and her husband Frank Payne along with many of John’s family from Texas joined in this time of parting from one they too had come to love.
My sister Ava and her husband Eddie were there. The Wallers have always included my "little sister" and her husband with the family. Ava was only eight when Don and I married. Ava, with her appreciation for fine music, had been especially touched by the talented musicians selections and sought copies of arrangements of the older traditional hymns used as prelude music.
Mildred’s role as leader of the clan has long been acknowledged. In all my love for her, I will admit she sometimes did this with a heavy hand. Somehow that did not present a problem—we all lived and moved together lovingly. Occasions of recent years are remembered vividly.
Thanksgiving 1993 we gathered at Miss Emma’s. Every member of the family was present. The photographs of that day are wonderful and even more priceless now that Mildred is gone. We treated ourselves by having the traditional Thanksgiving meal brought in. Mildred did the planning. If we weren’t enjoying her cooking, we were at least enjoying her menu! I saved the original copy of the menu in her handwriting. (A family joke is if you write it down, Aunt Patsy will save it.) Mildred insisted we use china, silver, and crystal and comfortable seating. Her energy and efforts for appropriateness were unlimited.
Celebration of Miss Emma’s 90th birthday in April 1996 brought us all together for another great day, again orchestrated by Mildred. We treasure our memories of our most recent gathering during Christmas. With little detailed planning, we prepared food for noonday dinner at Miss Emma’s. Was Mildred not up to par? At my insistence she consented to using paper service and everyone just found a place to sit. Looking back, there seemed to be an urgency about this gathering. Every member of the family was here except two great-grands who were unavoidably detained elsewhere.
Two other Gatewood cousins have died. William Edward Metcalfe, of Cleveland, was buried as recently as December 3. Mildred and John had thoughtfully visited him in the hospital in Memphis. We are all being reminded that we are the older generation and we shall now be burying each other.
We all grieve Mildred’s death in our very own intimately personal way. Each of us had our own individual relationship with this wife, mother, grandmother, sister, stepmother, stepdaughter, sister-in-law, aunt, cousin, and friend. Writing this now, lam finding some comfort. Too, lam writing long letters to John, Phil, Myra, and their families. I have found writing, although it may never be shared, is a good therapy in disappointments and heartaches. I have suggested this to Phil and Myra. I expect to continue writing, perhaps letters directed to Mildred, as I work my way though my grief and cope with the pain of my sorrow. I have also recommended to Myra and Phil long solitary walks, perhaps conversing with the presence of their mother as they go. She will always be in their hearts.
Telling God of the sorrow and anger and hurt they feel that their mother has died can bring relief. A week after Mildred’s death as I woke up, I was conscious that I was angry. The day had not begun—I had spoken to no one. Then I said aloud, "God, I wish Mildred had not died!" We can remember God made us in His own image. He knows the anguish—the intense suffering—of giving up one we love. In all His greatness and majesty, He understands our every emotion. Most importantly of all, He loves us with His everlasting love and only He, in His own time, can give us that peace which surpasses all understanding when our hearts and minds are kept on Him.
Many years ago on the top of a stationery box I first read Longfellow’s writing: "The heart like the mind has its own memories and in it are stored the precious keepsakes." I am grateful for my own, very personal and loving memories of my sister-in-love Mildred.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help (Psalm 121:1).
Life’s a jumbled highway where each morning finds us inching toward our dreams, a vision of delight. We walk on city sidewalks and country lanes, past farms and open fields, city skylines and village greens. We wade through creeks, trip over rocks, fall in ditches, step on nails, and climb over fences. In urgency we may walk all night. Or in fear, run 'til we faint.
We bungle and blunder, laugh and love, grab a snack, change our clothes, slake our thirst, wave at strangers, play a game, talk with friends, and say good-bye to those who’ve taken the final step.
Insects sting us, stray dogs hound us, enemies taunt us, friends stand by by us, loved ones cheer us, storms delay us, sunrise wakes us, moonbeams please us. Shuffling, walking, running, skipping, poking, always inching toward our dreams, a vision of delight.
Until one day our spirits sag, our vision dims. "The way’s too long," we plead, "the road unmarked, perils too great." Downcast, bored by monotony and anxious about tomorrow, we slow to a stop: no more shuffling, no more walking, no more running. But wait! Happily there looms a distant hill, then another, hill upon hills, faraway hills peeping over nearby hills.
From first sight of the gentle, rounded crown of the farthest hill, we tap new strength to climb the nearest hill. A hill of hope, a mound of inspiration
Yes, hills spell hope, the dream that warms our hearts, the spark that keeps our souls alive, the breeze that fans the smoldering fire, the smile that tells us all is well.
Hope is most at home in hills, and if there were no hills, we’d birth them in our minds.
—Robert J. Hastings
Note from Patsy Waller: Psalm 121 was used as a recessional reading at the funeral service for Mildred Burttschell. Later, providential it seemed, I came upon the above devotional which I had saved from a Sunday morning church bulletin. I felt moved to pass this along in this newsletter.
We dedicate this issue of Seasons to those who died and whose families we served from November 7, 1996, through February 9, 1997.
Mr. Arthur N. Vines 11/7/96
Mr. Shaw Baker 11/10/96
Mrs. Rubye Ray Jackson 11/11/96
Mrs. Lula Hugh East 11/11/96
Mrs. Sue Chapman LaCava 11/13/96
Dr. James Joseph Cook 11/16/96
Mrs. Ruth Bartlett Rogers 11/18/96
Mrs. Lucille Davies Masten 11/20/96
Mr. Richard Gray Grimes 11/21/96
Mr. William Henry Brooks, Jr. 11/22/96
Mrs. Idell Ferguson Bowles 11/24/96
Mrs. Faye Heard 11/24/96
Mrs. Edna Dickinson Bowers 11/25/96
Dr. Minnie Young Peaster 11/25/96
Mr. Paul Wilbanks Wiseman 11/26/96
Mr. James P. Wells 12/4/96
Mrs. Viola Anderson 12/5/96
Mr. Henry Moody McGregory 12/6/96
Mrs. Omie Johnson Buchanan 12/7/96
Mrs. Lucille James Mize 12/10/96
Mrs. Augusta Elizabeth Walker 12/12/96
Mr. Howard Gibson Duvall, Jr. 12/15/96
Mr. Winston R. Bruce, Sr. 12/18/96
Mr. Ira Lee Crowson 12/18/96
Mrs. Grace Jones Saunders 12/19/96
Mr. Cecil Thomas Bishop 12/19/96
Mr. Wallace Q. C. Taylor 12/22/96
Mr. James Edward Jones 12/25/96
Mr. Richard Dean Pierce 12/27/96
Mrs. Vera Palczev Antonow 12/31/96
Mr. Herbert J. Wingo 1/2/97
Mrs. Jimmie Roberts Ferguson 1/11/97
Mr. Malvin E. Champion 1/12/97
Mr. Toy B. Stewart 1/15/97
Mrs. Mildred Waller Burttschell 1/18/97
Mr. Grover Cleveland Kinney, Jr. 1/19/97
Mr. Maurice John Luker 1/20/97
Mr. David Stanford Ross 1/26/97
Mrs. Katie Lavelle McMurtrey 1/26/97
Mr. Gerald FitzGerald Hall 1/30/97
Mrs. Ruth Lorene McMillan 1/31/97
Mrs. Myrtle Lancaster Vines 2/1/97
Mr. Ernest Carl Spence 2/1/97
Dr. Roy Augustus Singley 2/4/97
Mrs. Eva Lee Taylor Tarver 2/5/97
Mrs. Myrtie Brown French 2/9/97
ASSURANCE AND INTERCESSION
I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though they die.
And everyone who has life, and has committed their life to me in faith, shall never die.
For we do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves;
For if we live, we live unto the Lord; and if we die, we die unto the Lord.
Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.
—Memorial Service Reading