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Learning how to die - Ronda Rich

Too often in recent times, death has visited itself upon my family, its intrusion bitterly unwelcome.

When my cousin, Jacky, one of the younger members of our sprawling clan, received his personalized calling card to meet the Lord, we all discovered something that we never imagined was possible -- happiness in death. His dying, in fact, was pure joy.

Now, don't get the wrong impression and think that we were happy to see him go, or that there weren't "boo coos" of tears shed. There were plenty of those. And don't think for a moment that he wasn't such a fine fellow that his presence wasn't needed. It was needed plenty. He was, we all agree, the comical relief in the family, as well as one of the finest ones that stood within our midst.

He never said a harmful word against anyone, he loved all he knew and all who knew him loved him back. As far as personalities and other things go, he was the brightest light in our family. He was so downright comical about everything that you wondered how his brain could process thoughts that quickly. I, for one, have to think about being funny, but for Jacky, it came easily. As easy as the teasing grin that slid across his face the moment he saw anyone he liked. And, that was everyone.

At first, we couldn't believe the news. Cancer. And the prognosis wasn't remarkably good. To please his devoted wife,Carolyn, his children and family, he fought. Or, at least, he good-naturedly pretended to. He took all the treatments and under Carolyn's watchful eye, he ate well, rested often and whenever the weather permitted, sat in a lawn chair in his car porch and admired the simple pleasures of nature.

I called one day and he answered the phone. "Aw, I'm havin' a good time," he said happily. "I been sittin' out here all day, just enjoying the beauty. Oh, it's a beautiful day. Yes ma'am, it is."

As death inched closer and we mourned prematurely the day it would arrive, Jacky exuded the excitement of a child.

"Don't feel sad for me," he'd intone time after time. "Y'all need to be sad for yourselves, 'cause I'm goin' on to heaven to see my Lord and all my loved ones there, and y'all gotta stay here a while longer." He'd stop, throw back his head and laugh with crystal pure joy. He wasn't pretending to be brave. He wasn't acting courageous. He truly was happy at the prospect of crossing the river Jordan and living an eternal life in glory.

Two weeks before his appointed time arrived, I carried supper to him and Carolyn one night. Nothing fancy, just Mama's made-up, but delicious recipe of cheesy, creamy chicken noodle soup and cornbread muffins. His excitement and happiness reminded me of a woman who is planning her wedding day. He chattered with tremendous animation.

"Nope, I ain't a bit worried." He smiled broadly and would quote one scripture after another, each one underscoring what the Good Book promises and what he looked forward to seeing.

"Yep, I'll be havin' me a good time in heaven," he threw back his head to laugh and tossed his hand up in a wave. "See y'all when you get there."

I laughed. I couldn't help but laugh. "You're an inspiration," I said with grinning admiration.

"Naw, I just know what I've got waitin' for me."

"Oh death," I thought silently. "Where is thy sting?" My cousin had outsmarted that which we mostly dread. He found the upside in what most consider a downside.

Time after time, we marveled and discussed it among ourselves. We couldn't believe it. We knew many who had taught us the joy of living, but we had finally found one to teach us the joy of dying.

And teach it well, Jacky Miller did.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.