Memorial Day is a US holiday observed to remember men and women who served in the armed forces and have since perished. Originally called Decoration Day and enacted after the American Civil War, the holiday paid tribute to casualties from the Union and Confederate states. Today the holiday has been largely commercialized and often evokes thoughts of barbecues and summer days spent at the lake. We should challenge ourselves to evoke the true meaning of this sacred day.
Kathleen Smith Dillingham, better known as “Kathy” or ”Bobby” was born in 1953 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, the “Steel City”. Kathy was raised in a Catholic school and exhibited an independent spirit from an early age. During high school she moved with her family to Tennessee where she made her roots and later started a family. Living most of her life in the Sylvan Park neighborhood of Nashville, “Bobby” raised 3 girls, Heather, Leslie and Bridgette. Her children and grandchildren quickly became her best friends and brought much joy to her life. Of the grandchildren, Shelby was the first, followed by Reese and most recently, Andro. A great granddaughter named Annalie was also welcomed into the family. Later in life her adopted son Jayden became a light in Bobby’s world.
“Kathy” as she was known professionally worked several jobs before she came to find her niche in Law. Her quiet determination proved to be useful in the office when dealing with sensitive materials and numbers. Her organizational skills secured her position in the workplace until her death. She was a fixture at Jerry Humphreys Law (now Davies, Humphreys, Horton and Reese) for 20 years before joining the staff at the Estes Kefauver Federal Courthouse where she had been employed for the past 16 years. Most recently Kathy was a procurement officer in the financial division for the federal courthouse. She had many co-workers she called friends and we are grateful for those of you that were able to be here today.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention her animals. Kathy loved animals. She had numerous pets throughout her life. Most recently her animal companions were Larry “Little Lar Lar” and Bruce and earlier in life, Dumpling, Jake, Magoo, Buddy, Cake, Duncan, Puppy, Toonces, Baby and Joanie and the list goes on. Nicknames were common at Kathy’s house. Everyone had one and sometimes two. The girls tell a story of shopping with their mom (one of her favorite pastimes) and when they lost sight of her they would say “Momma” and all the ladies shopping would turn their heads to the children. Heather, Leslie and Bridgette got creative; they decided to call their mother “Bob” that way she would know it was them calling for her. Later after Jayden began living with Kathy that nickname evolved into “Bobby” and so it has been since.
When I asked her daughters what they believed their mother’s greatest achievement was their response wasn’t about how much money she had made, or what kind of car she drove. Rather it was how she managed to live such a loving and full life in the face of such adversity. She never gave up. When she lost her 16-year-old daughter, Bridgette, she was saddened deeply. The loss of a child for any parent is crippling. However she pulled herself up and set an example for her children and grandchildren that with love and quiet determination you could accomplish or survive anything. If Kathy were asked today what her life’s greatest accomplishments were I think she would probably say, “Heather, Leslie, Bridgette, Shelby, Reese, Andro, Jayden and Annalie.”
Kathy had an open heart as big as the ocean. She loved her children, grandchildren, friends and animals. She was a quiet nurturer who was always there when someone needed help and was always available to take in a puppy that needed a home. When her daughter’s friend found herself in unfortunate circumstances Kathy stepped in. She agreed to care for her child Jayden and has been a rock in his life ever since. Kathy was actually currently completing the adoption process, and had long ago taken Jayden under her wing exhibiting again the care and nurturing characteristics of a great mother.
As constant as the ocean tides, so was Bobby’s love for her children. With love as her guide she met each new day, each happiness, each sorrow and each triumph. One wave at a time, her love affected everyone she encountered.
I recently went went home to Camden and visited the land where I grew up. I always go down by the creek and absorb nature as she reveals herself to me. The casket I made rests still on the creek bank. It is slowly being reclaimed by the earth. The moss continues to grow on its surface and dogwood blooms grace its edge. The green field comes alive with blooms and bees. On this day I said goodbye to a dear great-aunt and a friend’s father whom, in his life, never met a stranger. As the seasons change around us we are reminded of Life’s seasons and its daily flux. May we live each day without regret and with eyes wide open. Summer will be here before we know it…
Over the Fourth of July weekend earlier this summer I harvested saplings and constructed a primitive casket. I wanted to take a moment and use photography to tell a story. I wanted to tell the story of natural or green burial. I wanted to portray how beautiful the process can be, not only for us but for nature as well. The saplings I used were tender and tall. I added mosses, ferns and cedar for scent. Honeysuckle vines were used to bind them all together. After I took some photos and captured the story of this simple casket I placed it on the creek bank on my family’s rural West Tennessee land. I recently visited and took a walk along the creek. I came across that simple little casket. Mother nature had already began to reclaim her. The moss and ferns had grown and leaves from above had began to litter the casket’s body. As I stood there I listened to the water and watched as leaves continued to fall. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the seasons of our gentle lives. We too belong to mother nature. Soon winter will grip the Earth and Spring will then follow reminding us that nothing is permanent. Whatever we might be currently experiencing, remember that it will pass and anew our situation will grow. Hold each of life’s moments close to your ear and listen for what they teach. Embrace each season of change and allow the mother nature of our lives to guide us along our life’s paths.