Barbie Perkins-Cooper, Author

Living Life in the Country As A Writer, Photographer

Today at 2pm, I attended the memorial service of a dear, cherished friend. Today has been an emotional roller coaster ride for me, starting with a silent prayer to God to just get me through this day. Feeling confident, my husband (Rock) and I left for the church chapel early so I could focus. Before I give a speech, like an actress, I like to get into character — just to focus; however, today was a day I could not reach inside of myself to focus.

Since her death on July 9, 2011, I’ve kept myself busy — confident that no matter what I felt, I could cope. Until today, I haven’t been able to cry. Walking around the church, I felt strong, although my hands were shaking and my eyes teared up, just a bit. I hugged many of the friends that Bernice and I knew and when the ceremony started, all was fine — until the ceremony began. I reached for Rock’s hand, squeezing it tight in mine. Today, I needed the strength of my husband like I haven’t needed since my dad’s death on July 6, 1999.  Words were spoken. Prayers were expressed, and then I heard my name and an introduction for the eulogy.

My voice quivered. My heart palpitated and now, my hands were shaking almost uncontrollably. I inhaled. Exhaled. Glanced out at the audience, saying another prayer.

Adjusting the microphone, I swallowed and began:

“Our paths crossed as many paths do, late in the 1970’s when our children were in
school. We smiled at PTA meetings, Parent Teacher Conferences, and when we met each other within our community. Many times, I drove by her house and waved at her as she shuffled children and parents busy with daycare. We were busy with family, commitments and our schedules could not afford the time. At least, that was my excuse and I regret, I failed to make the time. Flash-forward to 2008, my husband and I met her again at Glenn L. Jeffers VFW when Michael Viljac as Elvis the King brought us together, only this time when our eyes met, I
approached her, introducing myself again, telling Bernice  that I wanted to get to know her better, only this time, I wanted to be her friend.

She smiled that infamous, welcoming smile that always brightened my day. We
exchanged phone numbers and soon, we bonded with a dedicated and devoted bunch of friends who met on Friday nights for dinner, karaoke and much fellowship. One night I found the courage to sing, selecting “The Rose,” and when I returned to our table, I noticed Bernice wiping her eyes. Little did I know that tune was special to her and her beloved Jerry. She apologized for her tears, explaining how “The Rose” brought back special moments of their lives together before she lost him a few years ago. During his illness, she stood firm and tall, telling everyone he should not be in Hospice, but in their home. There, she cared for him with loving gentleness and dignity until he slipped away.

Bernice  is the type of woman who lights up a room. Beautiful, graceful, with a melodious movement  whenever she enters a room with that smooth, delicate, graceful glide, I  teased her, telling her she was not only a lady but also a magnet to men. She  cackled with that smooth, charismatic Southern laughter and charm and I knew Bernice and I would be friends for a lifetime.

Our discovery that something was not quite right with Bernice began during our New Year’s celebration at Jon and Betty’s home. We thought she was annoyed with us, or simply wanted to be alone, as I do many times. Eight days later, when I got the phone  call that Bernice was in the hospital, I began to put the missing pieces of  the puzzle together. The next afternoon when I visited with Bernice, I told  myself she would be fine. God would take care of her and provide us a miracle.

While Bernice fought for her life, she gave me a new appreciation about friendship. Bernice is a  rare, cherished friend. The kind who sits and listens. The quality of friend you share stories and confidential moments with, knowing that those confidentialities will not be broadcast to others. Bernice is a rare, refined  lady. A delicate, beautiful rose among the thorns in life.

The magnetism of Bernice was appreciative. She was a friend who  captivates, someone who entices others to be around her. Like an aromatic  candle, she lights up a room, showing me the way to accept those things in  life that I have no control over. Now the words, “God grant me the serenity  to accept the things I cannot change…” suddenly has new meaning.

Today, we cherish the precious  moments and memories from the gift and blessing of knowing our loving rose  and friend, Bernice . A devoted friend. Sister. A wife. Mother.  Grandmother. A magnet who attracts others, just by being in the room. An amazing, precious and loving woman of substance! We cannot allow the grief to  capture us. We must embrace it, knowing we must go on, remembering those precious moments we shared with her, and we must cling to the friendships and extended family we became when Bernice came into all of our lives.

Many of those precious memories are  the gifts of love from her beautiful, devoted daughter, Shannon and the  precious grandchildren, Mary Catherine and Austin. Mary Catherine is a  feisty, beautiful young lady filled with spirit and charm, who reflects the  personalities, values and high standards of her mother and her grandmother.

Austin is more reserved. He  sits back observing, processing what is going on. Affectionate and ready to give a tight hug, Austin is protective, and authoritative. Wise beyond his  years, he is truly a “Little Man” who knows the right words and affections  to comfort his mother and sister at just the right time.

Both children  adore their “Mimi.” When they enter the room, Bernice’s eyes light up like a Christmas tree. No doubt, the magnetism of Bernice will go on  and on as Austin and Mary Catherine grow into adulthood. Both of you must remember the good times you’ve shared. The stories and laughter, along with all of the welcoming hugs, and Bernice’s gentile demeanor for the times when you were reprimanded as children. When you miss her and ache for her, touch your heart. Bernice is there for you – ALWAYS!

Today, Let us all give thanks as we celebrate the life of Bernice while embracing her one last time to allow her to stroll towards the guardian lights of God and her  beloved Jerry. Bernice, go towards the lights of Heaven with our blessings.  While it is true, we will miss you. Words are a bit difficult to express during the grieving process.  People come into our lives for a purpose and we are  blessed to have you, and your precious memory inside our hearts. “

After my speech, I sang, “The Rose,” a bit off key at first because my voice felt as if it had bricks inside; nevertheless, I got through the song, in memory of my dear friend, Bernice. This was my last tribute to her and I knew she was helping me get through the emotional roller coaster and tears I experienced.

Yes, today was an extremely emotional day for me. Good friends are so hard to find, and when they are lost, a heart breaks, and breaks and breaks. Today has been another lesson of how short life is and how much we must always put our best foot forward, while reaching out to those we love. Life is precious, but a bit too short. We must cherish each and every moment we live.

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