My first cousin, Jean Wright Bradford, went to a glorious homecoming in heaven this past week! She has been a prominent figure in my life and a tremendous inspiration. Her children were actually closer to my age, so I had the privilege of visiting often in her home as a child and in my early teens. As a young mom, Jean was never too busy to play board games with us; come down to the "fishing rock", which would later reside on her young son, Marshall's grave; play ball, go rabbit hunting on the jeep, or for target shooting. There were never too many people in Jean's home or at her table. They usually played games or sang while she made biscuits as big as a plate and a pot of gravy that could feed a multitude!
Once we were fishing on a sawdust pile in Mentone, AL, when snakes started coming out from under us on all sides! Jean calmly went to her truck, pulled out a pistil and started shooting. I'm not sure how many snakes she shot that day! We went right on with our fishing!
She and I made a trip to Florida a couple of years ago. We stayed up talking too late the night before leaving for home and, as a result, consumed more than our share of caffiene while driving north. Needless to say, we made MANY pit stops on our journey back. When I returned to the car after one such stop, she said, "Jeanette, I hope the Rapture doesn't happen while we're on this trip!" After hearing her talk with excitement about the return of Jesus, I was puzzled and asked, "Why is that, Jean?" She replied, "We might be on potty break and miss it!"
Jean, so like my mother, her mother, and our grandmother, taught me how to be a strong, Morris woman. We do what has to be done and we do it right! We can become emotional and examine our inner feelings after the situation has been resolved. I watched Jean on her death bed, sing praises to the Lord and plan her life celebration as a wonderful, worshipful concert dedicated to God. She told her daughters, Carolyn and Louise, " You will sing these songs and you will sing them well! You will not break down until the service is over!" Of course, they did just what their mom told them to do.
Jean visited with 57 people in her hospital room that last day of consciousness, telling each that she loved them and being assured of their salvation. When my son, Matt went in to see her and say "Goodbye," she asked, "Where is your brother, Ethan?" Matt said, "He's in Cumming, GA."
Jean asked in reply, "Is he a Christian?" When Matt assured her that Ethan is, indeed, a Christian, she stated matter-of-factly, "Well, all right then! I'll see him later."
My sisters, Janice and Virginia, were especially close to Jean as they were close in age. Janice had to accompany her husband to his brother's funeral in Florida on Jean's last day of consciousness. Janice told Jean on the phone that she would hurry back if possible. Jean told her that would NOT be necessary. She would SURELY see her on the "other side."
Jean laid out an amazing concert of worship and praise for her funeral. Having been a well known gospel singer and song writer for most of her life, she called in Lari Goss to play piano and members of all choirs she had ever directed joined to make a huge host of voices in one large choir! On the morning of her celebration memorial service, I wrote a poem in memory of Jean, one which I presented at that service on behalf of our mothers' side of our family. Many of us wore purple, in reference to Jean's favorite color, representing the royalty that she would one day enjoy as a member of God's heavenly choir.
AN ANTHEM OF FAITH: A CELEBRATION OF JEAN
Jean was my cousin, my precious friend,
She was a testimony to the end
Of Faith, of Family,
Of living the Life—
The life she sang about—
A life in Christ.
I watched her suffer through trials and pain,
But saw her triumph again and again,
As she closed her eyes and lifted her voice
To sing to the Lord
Her anthem of choice—
Praises and hymns, her way to rejoice.
Her laughter held a musical lilt, sparkling eyes,
A backward head tilt.
Her brow would furrow if ever she felt,
Something just wasn’t right or could be better.
For what she believed, the ultimate go-getter!
No matter the circumstance, no matter the pain,
Her faith, though shaken, never did wane,
So many losses she bravely survived—
Early loss of her dad, her childhood deprived.
The pain of viewing a charred new house,
And while so young, the loss of her spouse;
Her heart torn apart at the death of a son,
She cried out to heaven, “God’s will be done!”
Jean held on tight to what she knew—
Writing musical praises to the Lord so true.
Choirs followed her lead as she listened intently,
Perfect pitch turned her head as she (not always so gently)
Orchestrated tunes to reach the skies
While touching earthly hearts and tear-filled eyes.
What an inspiration, this cousin of mine!
A single mom to two girls,
A proud grandmother, kind.
Though death takes her body, her presence departs,
Her faithful spirit remains in our hearts.
Her music still rings through voices in churches;
Her message still sings in the hearts that it touches—
“Be strong, friends and family! Praise the Most High!
I’ll see you all on the other side!”
Jeanette Dysart Underwood
Dec. 15, 2009