Even those who are not Catholics can probably remember images of Pope John Paul II in his last infirmities. Here was the great man of youth camping trips, skiing and an underground Catholic Church in Nazi Poland and a resisting Church in the Soviet block. Here was the man whose physical vigor had been the bright framing highlight mixed with the verbal paint of his answer made when a member of the curia in the early days asked if he did not think it “unseemly for a Pope to ski ?” The still relatively young Pope had said: “It is unseemly for a Pope to ski badly.” He did not ski badly and he was very much the Pope.
Pope John Paul II is due to be canonized soon and this weekend I watched the video Witness to Hope which is based on the book by George Weigel and tacks the entire biographical arc of Karol Wotija known to many as John Paul the Great. Many can remember the shouts by the Italian crowd of “Santo Subito” as this old man’ s death was announced. People wanted him quickly made an official saint. It has been pretty quick by Church standards. This is different than the cultus that sometimes springs up for a young martyr who has died giving witness to Christ. Not the act of dying quickly and bravely but of enduring long gives rise to faith and veneration.
This is a note largely written during the last hours of the fourth of April, 2014. April Fourth is the birthday of one of my earliest girlfriends and and we are still enough in touch that I messaged her with a celebratory greeting. I can think back on that unbelievably young era of life every April fourth. l am not so much thinking about that period nor about those lost in youth as I am about the twilight years. My nephew Anthony Joseph Summers has his third birthday party tomorrow. That is another reason to think of youth and innocence. But again this note is about something else.
I spent much of the day today and yesterday with my cousin Ivan Berling who is in his eighties. We went to visit my father in the hospital today. My father is in his seventies and has had many health problems lately. He has cardiovascular problems, cancer and gout among other things. I suppose that trend of thinking about the later years of life also relates to the coming canonization of the Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. These were two men who kept serving God, the Christian Church and humanity until the very end of their earthly lives. These were long lives. Pops whose funeral caused the visit left us many reminders of a long and eventful life. There was little about his 91 odd years that did not speak of experience and fullness more than innocence and absence. My cousin and I had our visit framed by his life this weekend.
So my cousin Ivan and I have just come from another funeral of an elder in the relatively small world of one’s close family and friends. But of course our circles only overlap they are not the same and he was not at Gammie’s funeral or Nannee’s funeral as I would name these two events. In September of 2013, my great aunt Lottie Lucia Miller Massey, the former Mrs. Charles William Massie II died . She was the last of three siblings and represented a closing off of one set of connections to the past through Laura Marie Broussard and her husband Dr. Preston Joseph Miller. Then last Monday my last grandparent died — Cecil B Gremillion Sr. My vigorous but somewhat elderly cousin Ivan Berling did not attend my great aunts funeral and talked to me of several people he had lost lately whom I did not even know who were in the same stage of life.
Nannee as I called her was the second of three children of the late Dr. Preston Joseph Miller and Laura Broussard Miller and the last surviving of the three. She did not get into this blog before this note although I wrote about her on Facebook. Two of those who sent me condolences on my maternal grandfather were her niece Dolly Brandt and her grandson Charles William Massie IV soon to be ordained a deacon in the Catholic Church. She is survived still by my correspondents and by one of their fathers her son Charles William Massie III and his brother Christian Chadwick Massey (Chad Massie) and sister Catherine Massie and her grandchildren born to Chad and his wife Tricia Dwyer Massie. The webs of family connections extend in all sorts of ways in my life. In my post about Pops I listed many of his descendants and not all but in Nannee’s shorter list I got closer to a fully complete list. Nannee is still survived by her daughter Laura Lucia Massie Hayes Roberts and her grandchildren through Laura both Paul Hayes and his daughter Patricia with his former wife Elizabeth and two children with his wife Stacey Thorne Hayes as well as Laura-Lucia Hayes Carothers I am not sure in Laura Lucia has children.
Nannee was a fascinating woman in many ways and I remember her fondly enough. Pops was a man who made his way with some college credits from what is now the University of Louisiana and an officer’s commission. But he was a staunch LSU sports fan. Nanee was not so much compelled by sports but she was an alumna of Louisiana State University and a long term supporter of various educational causes along with other interests in her life. Nanee was also different from Pops in some other ways. Whereas he attended military officer’s training programs and earned some licenses that required courses she made her life mostly in education. My Gammie, Beverly Miller Summers was a teacher for a while but Nannee for much of a life. She was a public school teacher and a devout Roman Catholic who lived that faith at a time when her divorce was unusual in small town environments of Catholic Acadiana and south Louisiana. She adjusted well to the tensions that exist between Church and State in our society.
Like Gammie who died two years and a bit ago she was descended from Joseph Broussard “dit Beausoleil” through her mother she never knew or remembered very well – who died in her childhood she was always deeply attached to her father until his death. He was also as a physician and part owner of a hospital the very essence of commitment to education around here. Today visiting my father in the hospital I was reminded as I always am his side of the family’s commitment to the legal and medical professions. There were plenty of doctors and lawyer’s in Pop’s life but I think of technical and business acumen when I think of his set. He and his brother-in-law Walter Hollier who died a while back were both bombardier instructors. That was education too I suppose but the feel and pace were different than law, medicine or public schools. Their stories were not all that common but they did leave an impression on my when they were told. My mother led the organization of her father’s funeral and wake which was held at a facility and chapel administered by Family Missions Company. She had also helped a lot with Gammie’s wake and funeral and none of the faults and much of the success of that venture was hers. As this comes out she has said good bye to her guest Ivan Berling Sr. and has been in the hospital with my father. You can see her understanding of the surgery and its immediate aftermath here. It is worth remembering her father died on Monday and she bore the largest part of the responsibility for all arrangements Tuesday and Wednesday. Dad was in the hospital on Friday morning. He also had a prep meeting on Thursday. Mom is no kid herself and has diabetes. But she keeps on ticking.
It was a bit trying to see my father wheeled into his room in the hospital in a bed where Cousin Ivan and I were waiting for him with a helium balloon and a humorous card. I certainly hope he is alright and we prayed with him. But he is not just “my father” even in my mind. His life in my mind involves fifty yerars of history together. Seeing my father always is near enough to something to do with land. There is not much else that can be said about that in a short note. But now and at almost all other times if he were not sick he and I would have something to discuss regarding lands even if it is just this house lot. Pops or Cecil Gremillion Sr. Still has in his estate a few parcels of land to deal with and always had a lot of dealings with land. Lottie Lucia Massie who died in September held land, mineral interests, financial interests and family concerns which occupied much of her time before and after her retirement from teaching. Mrs. Massie or Nannee was known to some as devoted to a long process of caring for her home, garden and surrounds for many years in a large sun bonnet or hat along one of the principal streets in Abbeville. But that period of home care was long in the past and there are many things that need doing on the estates of all those I have lsot in recent years from my extended family and I am having problems preventing my work here on my father’s home lawns and such. These are more likely to be issues when people full in years are threatened by death or taken from us than when the very young decease and often have fewer possessions.
So, Pops had a really decent send-off and his death was marked in a suitable way. I have no idea what will happen to those of us yet to go but I remember other recent funerals as well. Lottie Lucia Massie’s funeral was memorable enough. Much of the family and the great majority of my great-aunt’s direct descendants were gathered for the parts of the marking of her passing which I attended. The Mass was very suitable in the church she loved.The readings were read by her grandson studying for the priesthood and all but one of of all not so numerous grandchildren brought up the offertory gifts.The sermon/eulogy and music were well suited to the occasion as well. I suppose more immediate family and some of their friends and other relations may have continued the memorial in other ways. I was with a group of nine mourners remembering her at a dinner and three more were dining near us. We drank her favorite drink in her memory and much was remembered that went unsaid. I did not do as much in relation to either the death of Nannee or Pops as I did with relation Gammie’s death.
I wondered then if my grandmother’s death and burial will be the event that moves me from one sense of personal relative hell to a new one. I care about many people, patterns and institutions located here in the United States. I also feel that most of the problems and evils of this country are present elsewhere as well. However, I am not a very happy person and never have been. I do remember as history, from story and from experience the faults and foibles of the older generations that are passing on. While I have done much to help and honor some in those generations I have never been blindly adoring. When Gammie died two years ago I wondered if maybe her passing would be the event that helped or harassed me move geographically to a place where I would not have to participate in destroying almost everything I think is worth a damn just to survive. This blog is full of words and other expressions showing my discontent that is no secret. When the older ones pass on is forced to recognize that there were promises in one’s own life made to their generation that have not been fulfilled. These are not usually explicit but are implied in many ways.
The passing of these markers of earlier generations and the struggle of my father to extend his life make me more conscious of the shortcomings of our time. Because I do feel that self-destruction has become the establishment position in the USA. My grandfather who just died was a more comfortable and uncomplicated patriot in the things he chose to say about the American Union’s future and state of being. My own time in this life grows notably shorter and my strength has receded plenty already in many ways from visual acuity to optimism itself.
I have never felt free in the way some people do nor been the slave some people are but I do feel that as an American my life is so unfree and the bitterness of the false freedom ideology as it plays out in countless lies and misrepresentations does damage to our future that is so vast that it does trouble me often. Looking back on a life far from perfect here and abroad maybe I hope for a situation which will inspire me to go and live out however many days I may have left in peace. These days of peace were not so peaceful nor would future ones be. But I feel the lost potential of this country more as I see our ancestors of the World War Two Generation leave us. Death makes it clear that their era is over.
Soon it will be Holy Week and while Gammie was buried nearer Easter and I am past her death anniversary and not at Palm Sunday this is an unusual year. I am not more prepared for Easter than usual but it falls later in the calendar year than usual. I can remember Gammies funeral vividly where I was a pall bearer with other men in the family. At my niece Anika’s beautiful reading at Pop’s funeral and the readings of many other relatives I remember that I was similarly moved and touched by the Mass of Christian Burial for Gammie where my nephew Anika’s brother Soren who read a petition for Pop’s funeral read a reading for Gammie’s. I also remember how beautifully my first cousins once removed Dolly and Ainsley read the readings. The music and words and prayers were more than nice then.
I did not spend as much time with Pop’s wake and funeral as with Gammie’s similar events. In my life Gammie’s funeral was less than an ideal kind of closure. The final walk made for her as pallbearer in which I felt that almost everything was done to make me drop the coffin except to trip me and physically knock it out of my hands it seemed like a suitable culmination of my life’s time with Gammie. At the time I posted on Facebook about a nearly engineered coffin spill-a-thon which somehow managed to be a decorous burial or the other egregious affronts to the little protocols that could make life more tolerable all I know is that there is not much to set against the bad feelings as I move on with my life. It seemed to contrast so much with the many times Gammie precisely organized events. but really she was not perfect there and her resources were limited.
For Pops I wore his favorite green to the wake and my only good suit to the funeral. For Gammie I did some shopping to prepare for the funeral — socks and a pair of black shoes that did not have badly worn soles.For recent funerals I have had those things. My first cousin who is not related to Gammie was in jail when she died but was at Pop’s wake and funeral. I remember that after Gammie’s funeral I also went by to visit that first cousin in the parish (county elsewhere) jail. He has ended up there a few times and when out could not go to his original home at Kisinoaks as my grandfather with whom he had lived most of his life at Kisinaoks had come to live with his black helper and her man in a house he rented for both them and himself while his family home where my cousin lived was supposedly being sold. After Gammie’s funeral my cousin was not available to be visited and so I simply put some money in the electronic kiosk and confirmed that he was being held there. But at Pop’s wake and funeral we hardly spoke although he was available for conversation.
I van and I toured the Abbeville Library built in 2003, the Louisiana Military Hall of Fame and Museum and the Palmetto Island State Park. Each said something about what is good, worthy and honorable in this country and place. I do respect the efforts embodied in each of these institutions although I have a complicated view of each of them. And I also say that each is beautiful to me. My cousin Ivan was brought up to date on his hometown. I was happy to play tour guide as he lives out of state. He used to know the area but needs an occasional refresher to keep up now. Although I feel frustrated and oppressed in some ways I am not idle. I am also very aware that there is a lot going on in my own life and family. I cannot imagine that feeling worse about it than this rainy week in Lent seems to call for is appropriate. But it is real enough anyway. I am putting down some words about what is going on in my life.
As I have written my father has had an angiogram and has had a stent placed as a result of the imaging and testing that was done. This angioplasty has caused him to be admitted and held over night for observation. I visited him in the hospital in Lafayette and am waiting to find out when he will get home. He should be out this morning. I am not sure what his next few years will be like or what role I will play. But I do know that these days will matter not only to me but ot my nieces and nephews.
There will then be other work to be done in two weeks. I hope all of this goes well.
sometimes write on this Facebook Timeline (mostly when it was a profile) as though nobody is going to read and sort of warn anyone who does that this is the nature of a particular note. I have never done that more emphatically than here in this note. I loved my grandmother and it would take pages just to list the good things about her. Yet, much more than most deaths of those I cared about, her death has me filled with bad feelings and even bad memories. I think perhaps in part I feel that the tings I admired most about her may never be well known and are already mostly forgotten. Many of the other qwualites I liked about her color memories made overly simple by those who cherished or else may be seen as debunked by faults known t those who did not admire her. Her deth brings a finality to a lot a business which will forever be marked “unfinished” at least in my earthly human experience.
My grandmother Beverly Miller Summers and I spent a great deal of time together. We knew each other extraordinarily well and we had quite a few enjoyable times together. We were not really all that much alike in most of the terms by which most people would measure people being alike. We did not have mostly the same vices or virtues. We did not have an infinite trust in one another. Much of what bound us together was sharing in work which most people would find odd and esoteric and many would not recognize as legitimately being work. So much time spent is now safely locked in the past sealed with deaths twenty years apart of Chief Justice and Mrs. Frank Wynerth Summers. In her death his death is somehow completed for me. Although Christians recognize death as ending a marriage there is something of the “two become one” which that faith and others cannot help but feel as well. They survive in their descendants but they also end their tenure in my life as the couple is gathered beside one another in death’s rest.
On Friday, March 30, 2012, I buried my grandmother. It marked many important turning points in my life at the same time. I have always realized that in the end, the middle and the start my life was going to be troubled. There was a time when I hoped it might also seem worthwhile. However, that is a past chapter. Perhaps I will find a bleak and meager kind of peace somewhere for a few years. I may well be glad to leave behind the long struggle in this tortured version of American democracy which we both discussed in agreement and disagreement for so many years. Gammie has secured a resting place in death and her struggles had gotten smaller and more personal in recent years.
My grandmother’s death closed many chapters for me. She was a complex person and we had a complex relationship. In the wake and funeral I had a chance to put behind me some of the totality of a part of life which will not come again. I think my whole life I have been amazed at how horrible almost everything is and I still often feel that way. Nonetheless, there are millions of things to apprecite and value even in a world where one finds billions of places to attach the lable “horrible” and “mind-bogglingly horrible”. My grandmother had a complicated relationship with the church and with her Christian faith. She was more knowledgeable about faith than many who knew her would think.
A few, or perhaps more, who knew Gammie knew things about her that they might find far from the higher and better view of her which I have propounded to some degree. In many cases this would be because they are almost completely mindless idiots. However, in other cases it is becuse of legtimate confusion or misunderstanding. I know Gammie was affected by the range of moral forces in this world from most holy to most evil. I know she herself played many roles in the world’s moral drama. My life was often hellish in a completely different way from the hellishness of her life. Sometimes, one or both of us had a heavenly life. Was one thing real and the other not? I can’t give a total answer, but do believe both side of life were real. In the mix of it all was the usual very earthly existence.
I have a great deal of misery and bitterness that I could wallow in when I think about the family life in which somehow Gammie and I were both involved. In many ways it is possible to see our relationship as an exhausting and soul-crushing burden and waste of time. Yet, I am proud of the years we shared. They were not perfect and I always knew they would come with a price. One of our weaknesses in relating to eachother was that we did not have sutained direct confrontations about anything. She was very far from approving of all I did and frankly that was mutual and yet we just never spoke angrily about things for more than a few minutes. Often we related as if we had no significant concerns besides just visiting. I could list many thing she did for me and many things I did for her btu we never had an established sort of framework of support. She and I both were aware of compromises the other had made which we ourselves would not have made. Oddly enough, despite being my grandmother and almost half a century older than I she was very close friend. I think I was less near the top of her list of friends and yet I think we both were surprised for decades that we were in fact mostlt often friends. I do not think it was a friendship anyone else could really understand. I was often polite and deferential but really it was one of the most peer-like relationships of my life. As I look across the vast crap plain of life in my time I am not ashamed of what we tried at various times to do in the hellhole of circumstance. We both might have been better served in many to spend much less time together I can see objectively. I have so many reasons to regret the whole thing and she doubtless would as well if we ever would have chosen to look at things in that way.. Yet it would take books to merely list all the things we did together. Many of those things were objectively worthy things to do in life. Maybe, I will be free to move out of the web of previously shared misery in which I have become embedded. I am proud that I have the integrity of my rage and bitterness when nothing else would be proper. But I do not think rage and bitterness are good states of being.
Gammie I like to think is resting in peace. PauPau’s body beside hers is also reposed in calm of death and they are near each other. I am not reposed in this moment. I am tired and restless at the same time. If the grace of Lent is not entirely wasted on me then perhaps I will come to see the beauty of ending life well. I think it is very possible she found an increasing and holy peace in the end that she had not often found accessible. Perhaps, I will be so blessed as to know it when my own end comes.