Guest Contributor: Gussie Jonckheer age 28
On March 15, 2013 the world lost a true Southern gentleman, Thomas Kennedy Helm III. Thomas was an amazing lawyer and I was lucky enough to have him as my godfather. He unexpectedly passed away at the young age of 66. The moment I found out about his death, I was planning my trip to Louisville, KY to be a part of the Celebration of his Life and what a beautiful celebration it was.
The service took place at Christ Church Cathedral in Louisville, Ky a gorgeous House of God where his daughter Mimi had gotten married some years before. Thomas was quite a religious man and frequented this Cathedral regularly so this location was perfect. I was blown away at how many people were there to attended the service. Every seat in the house was taken, both on the main floor and up in the balcony, the two aisles along the sides of the church and the entire back were filled with people standing, packed into every inch. It was such an honor to see how many people loved him and wanted to be there for him, I know he would have been very pleased seeing so many of his friends and family paying their respects in support of the honorable life he lead.
We were handed programs when we walked in. The program included song lyrics and prompts to follow after the Reverend, which was lucky for me, not knowing a lot about services, not being a regular church goer myself.
After the very long 2 hour sermon and lots of sitting and standing, we walked across the street to the Pendennis Club where there were snacks and refreshments. The traditional ballroom was beautiful with high ceilings, crown molding and fireplaces. Photos of Thomas were displayed in silver frames and placed on tables around the room along with his service awards. The food was true Kentucky southern fare. Creole was served, shrimp with bacon, mini hot browns, brie with chutney, derby pie, pecan pie. His favorite drink, was served, Mint Juleps. I know he would have approved of every last detail during this time we were remembering him, and what a beautiful way to bring us all together by being a part of all the things he loved. It was hard looking at the photos of my godfather walking down the aisle at his own wedding and those of his kids, the one’s with his wife Elizabeth were the real tear-jerkers. One in particular put a smile on my face however of Thomas at his son’s wedding, the last time I had seen him alive. He and I danced most of the night and I will forever be grateful of that special time.
The following day was the burial where only close family and friends were invited and was just as much of a Celebration as the service the day before. We all lined up in a precession in our cars and when it was time, followed each other to the grave site area where the Helms family plots were. There was a tent and chairs that sat in the garden and a gorgeous table with a red silk table cloth where his ashes sat in a gorgeous urn with white roses around the urn, on each side of the urn were large floral displays of more white roses in the shape of a cross.
Once the Reverend had finished the final prayers in Thomas’ honor, he lifted the left edge of the carpet, exposing the hole in the ground where Thomas was to finally lay. He gracefully placed the urn in the ground, under a tree and next to a beautiful big root that stuck out of the ground with confidence. It was then that we had the chance to take the shovel and put in dirt from the pile if we so desired. His brothers and close male friends were now shedding tears when they hadn’t before, and his wife was crying out loud as she said goodbye to her husband.
Burying a loved one, although a great honor also marks the true end of their life. Once everyone added in a small shovel of dirt, we took the roses from all around the site and placed them on top. The hole was beginning to overflow with flowers that will always be there with Thomas, just under the earth and just above his ashes. The cemetery’s burier finished off the hole and packed in the dirt in force, Thomas was in his final resting place.
It wasn’t until then, sitting there in the graveyard and seeing what Thomas had now physically become, that something happened to me. I felt the realness of it all, from life to death, actually experiencing my loved one being put into the ground. I realized that this is the one thing we all have in common – we will all experience loosing a loved one and we will all eventually pass away ourselves.
What made me feel hopeful about it, even if just the slightest bit, was how much those two days felt like the Thomas love and know. It was almost as if he’d put his whole celebration together for us. Some of the unique ideas that made this a Celebration of his Life were; eating his favorite foods and drinks, entering the locations he frequented as a religious man, being around all his friends and family, even admirers of his. Everyone was dressed in appropriate black tie attire with manners and class. Thomas’ celebration fit him perfectly and never would I thought I’d say with love and gratitude what a beautiful and honorable funeral service it was.