Bubba’s Secret Life

Bubba’s Secret Life

From Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

Bubba’s Secret Life

To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground.

Stephen R. Covey

The oldest of four children and the only girl, I often found myself frustrated with my three little brothers. As an adult, I see them in somewhat of a different light, but they will always be my little brothers.

We have always lived close to each other, and although we did not see one another every day, we kept in touch. My parents owned a grocery store, which my father ran, and we ran into one another at the store.

“Bubba,” as I had nicknamed him when he was a baby, always came by the store before or after his shift. He was the oldest of my little brothers, and he was a deputy jailer at the county jail. To say that he was “laid-back” would be an understatement. His lack of attention to detail and tidiness often disturbed me. Being meticulous about my own house and property, I wondered how he could be so carefree and let things go. When he became a single parent, I worried he would not be able to “handle things.” After a heartrending separation and divorce, he met a lovely woman and things were looking up. I expected an engagement announcement at any time.

One sunny afternoon last August, I got a phone call. The woman on the other end started by saying she was with the local county rescue squad. I paid little attention as I waited for her to ask if we could make a donation. She did not ask for money, but did ask if I had a brother named Bubba. I offhandedly answered, “Yes.”

“Well, there’s been an accident.” There was a strange silence. I had been through this several times over the years. Bubba was hit head-on by someone who crossed the yellow line; his former wife had been in several rollover accidents.

Still undaunted, I asked, “Is he hurt? Did you have to take him to the hospital?”

When she did not answer, I guessed this was more serious. I asked again, “Is he hurt?”

This time she answered quietly, “Bubba didn’t make it.” The words echoed several times before they registered. What did she mean? “I’m so sorry . . .” I was numb, and her voice seemed to be fading away.

The next day, we met at the local funeral home to make the arrangements. It seemed like I was in the longest nightmare I had ever had. After picking out the casket and taking care of the family business, the pastor and Bubba’s fellow deputies began asking about the service. Since Bubba was not a member of a church, we felt the logical choice would be the chapel in the funeral home. It would be more than adequate for our little family and a few friends. But the deputy felt the service should be held at the new middle school because law officers from all over the state often come in when a fellow officer is killed. I doubted that many of them even knew Bubba. After all, he was not a road deputy, but a jailer in a small county jail. I imagined how much worse we were going to feel in that large auditorium with just our little family and a few deputies. My parents agreed that whatever the deputies thought was best would be fine.

Visitation at the funeral home was the next night from seven until nine. We arrived early, so as not to miss anyone who might wander in. We entered through a rear door and could barely make our way through the crowd. I wondered who all of these people were and if they were the unfortunate friends and family of another deceased person. As we neared the chapel where Bubba was sleeping, as the children said, I could see there was already a long line of people waiting to file through. Outside, traffic in our little one-horse town was lined up for more than an hour. People filed in for more than two hours. Who were these people? I thought. Well, as it turned out, my brother had a “secret life.”

He was a mechanic to those with car problems, a sitter for those with a baby in the hospital, a plumber to a desperate neighbor, a money lender, a lawn service, a moving company, a salvage man—each person came through the line with a story about how Bubba had been there for them in their time of need. No wonder he didn’t have time to vacuum or take the trash out. He didn’t have time to attend to those “important” details. He had “really important” business to take care of.

After the crowd had dwindled, we prepared to leave. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, I saw a sheriff’s car pull in with three men in prison whites crowded in the back seat. This was one of my worst moments because I already knew what the funeral director would later confirm. These inmates had begged to say good-bye to their jailer. After the mortuary was locked up, they were brought in through the backdoor and stood, chained together, in front of the casket weeping. They took their cigarette and snack money and pooled it to buy flowers.

We were not alone in that big auditorium the next day—it was nearly full. Three pastor friends shared stories about their relationship with Bubba. Our youngest brother, Tracy, who has muscular dystrophy and has spent more than twenty years in a wheelchair, spoke. “People didn’t think I would be able to do this, but my love for Bubba is stronger than my pain,” he began. Tracy shared about his big brother; Gus shared about his partner; Joe shared about his friend; and Bubba’s son T. J. shared about his daddy. Bubba had surely been all things to all people. In many ways we were uplifted, but inside I grieved all the more over the brother I never knew. I saw how many different losses he represented.

The procession, with nearly a mile of police cars with their blue lights flashing, was estimated to be four miles long. People stood along the highway with their hands over their hearts. Maybe it was a show of respect or maybe their hearts were aching like mine.

All of my life I thought I was doing all of the right things—keeping house, caring for my children, attending church and sending cards to the sick. I hadn’t refused to help anyone, but I had not been out looking for the opportunity either. My priorities now seemed strangely ordered. Bubba’s secret life taught me what was “really important.”

Natalie “Paige” Kelly-Lunceford

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