Friday, June 6, 2008

"Cousin Jill"

It was all love between Jill and I and that's all that matters now that she's gone - that and the knowledge that her son, Lynn, will be taken care of and loved...

Jillian Dierdra Marlana Pullen died too young at 26 years old, technically Christmas Day, 2006 after having been diagnosed with an operable brain tumor almost a month ago in November. I can't eulogize or obituate (is that a word?) her since she was one of my many, many baby cousins - whom I simple didn't have a chance to spend a great deal of one-on-one time with. An absolutely gorgeous young lady with an infectious smile, my Aunt Ruby reincarnated, she was special. What I can do is give you my version of her homegoing service - in detail:
Jan. 2, 2007
A spectacularly gorgeous winter day in Connecticut - an almost balmy 50 degrees, bright, hard sunshine, not a cloud in the sky - Jill's spirit seems to be everywhere.

10:40am: I find a park on Henry St. on the west side of Trinity Temple. My space is closer to the infamous Cardinals Lounge (aka "Dirty Bird") than to the church, but it's daytime/after the holidays so I don't entertain any thoughts of dodging stray bullets or a random carjacking.
It's family so I don't have to perform any duties - just be there for her sister/brothers and other family who knew/loved Jill like me. I get to dress in my own choice of drag - I'm giving them the 'gangster chick' look w/a grey on grey pinstripe wool pantsuit, black, wool feathered fedora, black pumps, fishnets, bag, tank. Hey, you never know when you might have to bang on a family member who decides to get out of pocket...
The lobby is packed w/black suited men - they all look the same - except for "the nut" (Danny Everson) who'd stand out in a crowd of other weirdos. Then again, I've still got my sunglasses on and purposely avoid any eye contact, this isn't a social hour for me. I don't want to be around half of my family at any given time.
I go straight into the sanctuary, up the middle aisle to view the body. There are a few people left from the 9-11am wake and some family is already seated. Jill looks like she suffered and died. Her sister (and my "special") Dina did her hair and make up yesterday - Happy New Year. Jill's blonde hair has been smoothed straight with a side swept bang, some lipgloss and an almost pained expression her face. You could see the adhesive and needle scars on her hand where her IV was. There are thin, red lines across her eyelids. She looked almost bloated. Yet with all of that, she's still beautiful. I want to see her dimpled smile. She's dressed in white, in a white casket with a small spray of flowers at the top of her head with a tiny banner that simply says: "Mommy". I hold back the flood of tears that threaten to come in spite of my resolve.

11:00: I squeeze in between my sister Kim and cousin Khris - the old dynamic duo. Khris is giving us the Coco Chanel look, and serving it up quite well I might add. Amazingly, with this being another Funky Pullen Funeral Production, the service starts on time. Lynn Jr., Jill's fiance, sits on the front pew next to his dad, (who I like to refer to as "Big Lynn" with his cute self!). He didn't view her body very long, it was apparent he'd been crying and I imagine he was trying to be strong. He worked on a piece of chewing gum throughout the service as though it was what caused Jill to be where she was.
Poor Elder Minister Deacon Bayne was on the Hammond, banging out the same old Baptist hymns he'd been playing for funerals since I'd been a member at Rehoboth. Some things never change. God bless him because his work was about to be cut out for him...
The Processional: "I am the resurrection and the life..." Page Reynolds is leading the way - and all of Rehobie's ministerial staff is in tow - yep, even that nigga Wilbert. Wow.

11:15: Eld. Monte Reynolds gives the invocation and asks the church, which is now packed window to wall -( when did that happen?) to join him in a rendition of what's always been acknowledged as the TURNER family hymn and somehow has now become the PULLEN family hymn "Oh How I Love Jesus". The entire family almost immediately stands as though it were the pledge of allegiance but for the most part no one's feelin' it - except of course, Monte, who's almost already in full gameshow host mode...

11:30: The Old and new testament scriptures are read by Duper and Hashim respectively. Rick gives a perfunctory "prayer of comfort". The fact that Lynn's 2-3 month old teammates from the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks are in attendance is acknowledged. A correction is made: the ENTIRE team AND the coach is in attendance. They all stand. Impressive, especially since they obviously haven't known Lynn, let alone Jill that long. Duper's wife Ann had button/pins w/a picture of Jill made up and SOLD them for $5 a pop. Hardly anyone was wearing them. "Where did the proceeds of the sales go?" I asked innocently. She was dressed in all white as though she were a sibling or close relative, as opposed to the married to-a-cousin chick that she is...Bustling past me in the pew she murmurs, "pray for us" as they announce Dina is going to sing "I Feel Like Going On". I realize belatedly that Ann and Jule along with Monte are the back up singers as she mounts the steps to the choir loft. Dina has a sweet yet healthy alto that's surprisingly steady - at first. She clearly isn't familiar with the song and it appears Joel is feeding her the words as he stands at her side at the lectern. At one point Monte picks up the tune, as loud and sharp as ever. Finally Dina takes it back and ad libs "Jill felt like going on..." finally it's over.

11:45: Bishop Brewer gives some shaky voiced remarks - maybe he doesn't feel well, I think, otherwise, why should he be shook? The Rehoboth COGIC 'chorale' drags out the old funeral chestnut, "Anticipation", which of course, Monte leads. Again, he's "pitchy" (see Gwen, I learned something @ Dr. Clark-Cole's seminar!) Jill's oldest brother Robbie and oldest sister Tina are the only one's designated to have remarks/reflections. Cool. Cuts down on a whole lotta lyin', cryin' and dramatizin'... They both keep it real. Tina goes the warm fuzzy route, Robbie the technical/professional course. Tina notes, "only Jill could get a NBA team to attend her funeral!"

11:55: Lord have mercy, it's time for Jackie (who is now known as "Rubye P. Daniels" - hey everybody's entitled to at least ONE reinvention of themselves in their adult lives) to sing - you've got it - "I Won't Complain". Wellllll, I'd like to lodge a complaint - your voice is SHOT pumkin - there ain't an OUNCE of "anointment" on it and for the love of God and all other professional funeral attendees, KNOCK IT OFF ALREADY!!!

12:00: Butch is preaching the eulogy. I should probably stop there - since there really isn't anything else TO say, except he hacked and coughed his way through "My Soul is Anchored in the Lord". Khris started laughing so hard she had to sit down. When she got it together she said it sounded like he'd drunk a carton of milk before he sang! I gave it 2 thumbs down, if I had another hand I'd give it a third. The preaching too. After some 15-20 minutes or so of his going on about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and how Jill, like Esther had decided that "if she perished, she perished, but she was going to see the King" and only his wife Michelle saying "amen", he wrapped it up. No altar call, no appeal to all the young people that were there that hey, maybe this is good time to do a self exam and see if you've got it right or perhaps you might want to try Jesus. Nothing. Another lost opportunity.

12:30: The final viewing goes smoothly, Scott's co-workers (NHFD), the medical practice Robbie's works with, old friends of Carl's, Lynn's teammates, Jill's old friends, everybody but the mayor (guess you have to get shot in order to qualify for an appearance by him) file past to pay their respects. It gets bogged down upfront with so many hugging and kissing on the family. Two-thirds of the way in, Butch tries to get a handle on it by requesting that folk save the meet/greet for the repast. He's totally ignored. I go up to view her for the last time. The casket had been left open the entire funeral - strange I thought, but maybe that's how white folks roll ( they used a white funeral home). I stroked her hair. The sureal-ness finally seeping away. Jill gone.

My last conversation with Jill was over the Thanksgiving weekend in Philly right after she'd been diagnosed. I was trying to explain to her the genocidal warfare in Rwanda and now Darfur. She asked us not be be offended (Big Lynn, Dina, Robbie, Gaynelle and I were at Gaynelle's after Robbie and I had gone to see Michael Henderson - THAT'S a whole other blog!) but "why were niggas killin' niggas?!" - "Because they don't love themselves and if you don't love yourself you can't 'love thy neighbor'" was my reply. As I readied to go back to Jersey, I hugged her, told her I loved her and she'd be alright. She said, "I hope so." God knows best. She's alright

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