Funerals are never easy. We shed tears at the loss of loved ones while sharing memories both happy and sad that we’ll always carry, keeping the essence of the family member or friend we’re honoring alive in our hearts. Each of us has our own history with the person who’s gone, our own grieving process and our own distinctive feelings about him or her. Those sentiments may be a mix of love and resentment. If we believe in an afterlife, we must take solace in the knowledge that we’ll see each other again in a much better place.
I was apprehensive about the family funeral I attended over the weekend in Colorado, because of some dynamics that have made things tense and divided over the 16 years I’ve been a part of this family. But after it was all over, I was thankful that my worries were mostly unfounded: It was a beautiful service, made all the more special by the words spoken by young relatives who had the courage to get up in front of everyone and share, with genuine emotion and candor, how they felt about their grandmother.
I flew to Denver on Friday to join members of my birth family in saying goodbye to my sister-in-law Charlene Marcum Workman, who died Oct. 15 in Littleton, a suburb on the city’s southern outskirts. She’d been struggling with her health for a while and had spent three months in the hospital and rehab earlier this year dealing with COVID-19, a pulmonary embolism and other complications.
Char was the ex-wife of my brother Crys, the oldest of the three full siblings I was fortunate to find 16 years ago. They’d met in my birthplace of Huntington, West Virginia, in the late 1960s after Crys finished his four-year Air Force stint in Colorado and returned home to attend Marshall University. They had been married just short of 40 years before splitting in 2010. Their three awesome children are my niece Lewellyn (Lew), the oldest at 48 next month; nephew Brad, who’s 46; and their adopted son Tim, a police detective in the Denver suburb of Lakewood who’s 44.
The first couple of nights of my visit, I stayed with Brad and his wife, Kristin, who live in Henderson, a northern suburb, and whose daughter Bevan attends Regis University in Denver. Crys lives with Lew in Littleton, where Tim and wife Nadia, who have two sons, Andres and Esteban, also live. On Sunday, the last night of my visit, I stayed with our sister Terry — who’s closest to me in age at six years older and will be 67 next month — and her husband Rick in Arvada, a northwestern suburb where they’ve lived for about 40 years.
Saturday morning’s funeral at Drinkwine Family Mortuary (I got a kick out of the name, too) was not only a chance to celebrate the life of Charlene, who was only 73. It brought together family members who haven’t seen much of each other in a while, and the awkwardness I’d been concerned about really didn’t materialize. It made me happy to see everyone together, and I was moved that several of Brad’s and Lew’s longtime friends from childhood — kids who grew up in their neighborhood and spent countless happy hours in the Workman home on Dudley Court in Lakewood — came to honor Charlene and support the family.
I was so proud of my great-nieces Bevan (an 18-year-old Regis sophomore) and Sydney (Lew’s daughter who graduated from Colorado State last year), who recalled during the service how much their grandmother Charlene loved them. Bevan tearfully spoke of how Char would take such an interest in their lives, she’d read the same books (Hunger Games, etc.) and watch the same movies and shows they did. I gave a tribute of my own, expressing gratitude for Char’s welcoming my family into the fold when I found my bio family in 2005. As I told folks, this life-changing, roller coaster journey that I wouldn’t change for anything wouldn’t have been the same without Charlene, especially without her understanding and enthusiastically open arms from the start.
After the funeral, I rode back to Lew’s and Crys’s apartment with her, Sydney, and Lew’s 20-year-old son, Nolan, then spent a few hours with my big brother Crys, who’ll turn 78 in late February on the same day I’ll be 61. It was the first time we’d seen each other (not counting our video chats with Terry in recent months) since he came to Arlington to visit in 2018. The last time I’d seen Terry in person was February 2017, when I flew to Colorado to surprise Crys for our shared birthday.
As Crys and I watched college football — flipping between the Aggies beating Auburn and TCU surprising Baylor — he got out his ’62 Gibson electric guitar (the oldest of several dozen he owns) and he played “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Crys loves playing and has since he was a teen.
On Monday, a few hours before I left, Terry, Lew’s boyfriend Jason and I were treated to a mini-jam session, with Crys hooking up another of his guitars to a Marshall amp as he dabbled with “Fernando” by ABBA (Terry sang), “Let It Be” by the Beatles (we all sang) and “The Shadow of Your Smile” (a movie song made famous by Tony Bennett and others in the ’60s). Unfortunately, arthritis in his hands keeps Crys from playing as much as he’d like, and it started giving him fits the deeper we got into the session.
Another highlight of my visit came Sunday, when I was invited with Brad and Kristin to an afternoon hangout at the beautiful Lakewood home of Kristin’s mom Barb and stepdad Jack. We spent the afternoon eating, drinking and visiting in the basement, built into an entertainment space with a bar, large-screen TV, and foosball and shuffleboard tables. I haven’t played shuffleboard in decades and had a great time spinning the discs with Brad, Jack and his cousin David, who was visiting from Arizona with wife Larry (yes, that’s really her name). Like me with my birth family, Jack and David have a great reunion story — they’re childhood best-friend cousins who reconnected last year for the first time in 53 years.
All the Broncos fans in the room (and this non-Cowboys fan) were stunned to see their 4-4 team whip up on the 6-1 Cowboys. The final score was 30-16, but considering it was 30-0 before Dallas scored a couple of late touchdowns, it was definitely an unexpectedly dominant performance.
When it comes to my birth family relatives and the 16 years that have flown by since I was lucky enough to track them down, there have been many special moments that, as I also mentioned in my funeral tribute to Charlene, I wouldn’t trade for anything. It’s the time we spend with those we love that matters most, being ever grateful for having them in our lives and cherishing every opportunity to be close to them. That’s how it is for me with this family.
On Monday, Crys and I had lunch with Terry and her husband, Rick, in Lakewood, and I knew my time in Colorado was growing short. We went back to Crys’s apartment and spent a little more time there before Terry drove us back to her home in Arvada, where Rick would soon take me to the airport for my flight home.
One of those treasured moments: For some reason, “Merry Christmas Darling” by the Carpenters, my wife Kay’s favorite Christmas song, popped into my head. So what did Terry and I do but spend the next 30 minutes singing Carpenters songs together — “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Top of the World,” “Yesterday Once More,” “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “Superstar.” She’s got a beautiful singing voice (although she doesn’t think she does) — like our mother Betty, who performed with dance bands long ago — so Betty’s two youngest crooning together was one of those memories made to last.
For a trip whose main purpose had been to attend a funeral and offer support to my second family, the visit couldn’t have been more fulfilling. I got to spend quality time with my brother and sister, their children and grandchildren, and that had been my greatest hope. Lots of delicious meals out, dog-cuddling with Percy and Declan (Brad and Kristin’s dogs), Penny (Lew’s dog) and Jack (Terry’s dog). Enjoyable, insightful conversations with nephew Brad, sister Terry and brother Crys as always. And heavy doses of Brad’s humor, which is unique and priceless.
Ain’t family wonderful? ❤️