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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Over the Rainbow in the Hills of Kentucky

We recently attended an out-of town funeral for a friend’s father.  If you’ve lost a parent you realize it’s not only sad but also a very meaningful event in a person’s life. You come squarely up against mortality, including your own. Oftentimes parents loom as larger-than-life characters in our own narrative. And then there is the issue of suddenly becoming the oldest generation when you lose the last of your parents. It doesn’t matter how old you are when that happens. The blow can be seismic. 

The drive to the funeral was uneventful but longish, through the hills of southeastern Kentucky: “Justified” country. But unlike when Timothy Olyphant, who plays the lead character, Rayland Gibbons, on the FX hit show, drives from Louisville or Lexington to eastern Kentucky, those places are not all within a few minutes drive of each other.  

The long drive through the hill country, mostly denuded of greenery at this time of year, is stark but beautiful. Reminds me of when Patty Loveless sings in “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive": 

In the deep dark hills of eastern Kentucky
That's the place where I traced my bloodline
And it's there I read on a hillside gravestone

Where the sun comes up about ten in the mornin'
and the sun goes down about three in the day
And you'll fill your cup with whatever bitter brew you're drinkin'
And you spend your life just thinkin' of how to get away

(Lyrics quoted from

Our friend and his family trace their bloodlines to the deep dark hills of Kentucky. And are among the nicest people I know. We expressed our deepest sympathy. Which sometimes seems like a hollow comfort.

I had not seen the friend or his family in quite awhile. But the unfortunate circumstance did not diminish the fact we really enjoyed catching up with our friend. Seeing how wonderfully his sons and daughter had turned out. I suspect that is one reason we have funeral traditions. The chance to reconnect, seeing the younger generations, and the socialization all help us deal with loss.  

The funeral service contained a religious sermon and some Christian church songs, beautifully performed. But the highlight of the service for me was the recording of a medley by the Hawaiian signer, Iz, that included lyrics from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  

None of us is going to leave this place alive. We might as well try to share some comfort as we go along and hope to meet again “somewhere over the rainbow”.


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