I have seen way too much of Scot Ward lately — and told him so. Scot is a funeral director in Conyers, where I live, and it seems like I have been to an unusually high number of funerals as of late. They all have been very dignified and meaningful services — but most of them have been to remember the patriarchs and matriarchs of our community — men and women who have lived long lives, well into their 80s. While there is always a degree of sadness when any loved one is laid to rest, most of us, truth be known, would gladly accept a date with our maker after eight or nine well-lived decades.
Monday, however, I attended a service for an incredible lady whose time came far too soon.
I was at my usual post Thursday evening, in my recliner, by the fire, when I heard a scream from the kitchen. I raced toward the source of the outcry. Lisa, my bride of almost 30 years, had plopped into a chair by the kitchen table. There was a look of disbelief on her face as she sat, staring at the screen of her cell phone. She had obviously received very upsetting news.
She looked up at me and in a bewildered voiced told me, "Laura Barnes just died."
I stared at her for several moments, trying to wrap my mind around what she had just said. I wasn't really able to do it and, truth be told, still haven't.
I sat down beside her and made her repeat the awful, terrible, horribly tragic news two more times before the truth of what she was telling me registered. Even then I didn't know what to say or do. Lisa was telling me of the demise of one of the finest human beings I have ever known. Words cannot express how much respect I will always have for Laura and her husband, Butch.
Our lives -- Lisa's and mine -- have been intertwined with that of the Barnes's in so many ways over the years that it is hard to explain all the connections. I heard stories about Butch from the time I married into Lisa's family. His mother and my mother-in-law shared a hospital room when Butch and my brother-in-law, Eddie, were born. I guess that's going back a ways.
Eventually I would actually meet Colonel Barnes and found him to be one of the most squared-away soldiers, and men, I had ever had the honor of getting to know. He is a true patriot and I came to appreciate and respect his opinion on just about any and every subject we ever discussed -- and we have discussed a lot of topics over the years.
I had the privilege of teaching both of Butch and Laura's children, Traci and John. They were both unique and fun-loving kids who I learned to love and appreciate. In my mind's eye I can still see John -- who is tall and lanky, like his father -- folded up inside one of the jokes the Georgia public school system plays on tall adolescent boys called student desks.
Butch was in Iraq for most of one of the years I taught John, but I soon learned that Laura, although she was considered the good cop when it came to family discipline, could do plenty of knot-jerking if knot-jerking was in order. She could also be very persuasive, in a loving way, when a certain teacher was guilty of a little foot-dragging when college recommendations were due. It all worked out. John's a Bulldog.
Eventually we would wind up spending time at the same soccer fields and going to the same church and teaching in the same school system. My youngest daughter doesn't like for anyone but Traci to cut her hair. My lovely wife Lisa has taken care of Traci through two births. Traci's husband, Jason, and I teach together. Laura taught several women's Bible studies that Lisa attended -- and, in fact, had been leading a series of lessons about Esther, another great woman of God, the past few Sundays.
You get the picture. My family and Laura's family had the kinds of connections that people who live in the same small town all their lives develop -- and, like I said, I can't think of a single person I have admired more.
She was kind and funny and so very genuine -- and she was loved by her family, her friends and her community. As testament to that love a large segment of our community filled Rockdale Baptist Church Monday afternoon, sitting shoulder to shoulder, to grieve and pay respects to Laura's family and her memory.
A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words and the montage of photographs than ran across the screens at the front of the church prior to the service told a story far more poignant than I could ever write -- a story of a young couple in love with one another, in love with their family and in love with life. Laura was the centerpiece of that story and now she is gone.
She was only 53.
Life is fleeting and sometimes seems to evaporate like a mist around us before we realize it. And now the collective heart of an entire community grieves with Laura's family and loved ones.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.