The service began with a vocalist performing “How Great Thou Art.” Except there was a problem. She started the song, but it became immediately apparent that she was too sick to sing. I would say she had a frog in her throat, but she couldn’t even croak. She apologized and valiantly tried again. Still no luck. So she stopped, said she was sorry, and someone killed the canned music.
Then, just at the moment when it could have all gone wrong, a few mourners lifted their voices and gently carried on the song. Others joined in, and by the end of the tune, many of us were warbling along. It was beautiful. It was transcendent. It was a case of doing something good with the hand you’ve been dealt. And in that sense, it was perfectly Mila.
In her 46 years, she’d had enough physical illness and dramatic life “challenges” to make her over-qualified as a subject of a Lifetime movie or a blues song. But she chose to stay on the sunny side. She chose to take in strays, whether they were animals or people. She chose to love and laugh in the face of the very things that would make most of us mean and broken.
In fact, she once instructed me on how to do the “beauty pageant smile” when having my photo taken. We giggled as I gave it my best attempt, but my smile looked like palsy compared to hers. I miss her already.
Last week, I wrote on the importance of purpose in our lives. Mila understood hers and raised everything she touched. I suspect she knew she’d die sooner rather than later. In the last several years, she squeezed a lot of enjoyment out of her time: vacations, adventures with her husband Bobby, and even the purchase of a race car. All of this amidst sickness, surgeries, side effects and suffering.
I held up pretty well at the funeral until the last part. At the instant they opened the casket for a final viewing, the sound of Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken” filled the chapel. It caught me off-guard.
“Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word.”
I was overwhelmed — profoundly sad yet deeply comforted by the assurance that death is the ultimate spiritual event.
“Mila is kickin’ up gold dust now,” said the minister. I adore that image of my friend.
And I’m certain he is right. After all, she had already spent an entire lifetime spinning straw into gold.
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Lauretta Hannon, a resident of Powder Springs, is the bestselling author of The Cracker Queen — A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life and a keynote speaker. Southern Living has named her “the funniest woman in Georgia.” See more at thecrackerqueen.com.