I#039;ll see all my friends in #8216;Hallelujah Square#039;

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 29, 2007

Gary Nunnelee left this world way before his time.

He died March 21 after years of a downhill battle with diabetes that finally had him in a nursing home and on dialysis for a long time.

He was only 48.

Gary had one of the most beautiful tenor voices you could ever hear. He and his father, Ray Nunnelee, of Troy, would sing duets all the time. They were part of the seven-shape gospel convention singers from Pike County, and they sang with many of the Butler and Crenshaw County gospel singers, just to name a few.

And he was my friend.

We had known each other since we were teenagers, and now he's gone.

After you lose someone who means so much to you, I have learned, the hard way, that you must remember the good times, the sweet memories and the laughter.

No matter how sick Gary was, he never complained. He always had a joke for the situation, even when his eyesight began to fail.

How many of us would have that much internal strength and fortitude?

When my oldest brother Van died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 32, I was 16 years old.

I'll never forget Coach Jim Autrey pulling me out of Mrs. Judy Smith's English class, and telling me to get my books, that I would be leaving. He then told me that I &#8220had to be toughŠ.”

My brother was dead.

You don't forget moments like that.

As I was eating a bowl of chili and laughing at some silly sitcom on TV one Friday night in April of 2000, the phone rang.

My niece Brandy was on the other end of the line and could barely talk.

My father had died.

I was supposed to be taking him to a Braves' game the next day in Atlanta. He was the biggest Braves' fan I knew, and he had never been to a live game.

I still have the tickets.

Death is never easy for those left behind. However, we're the ones who mourn and selfishly wish for our loved ones back with us. My grandmother always said that funerals were for the living, not the dead.

I've attended the funerals of some of my students-one funeral was too many in that situation. One was murdered, two were killed in car accidents, one drowned three months after he received his diploma, and one was an innocent bystander in a drive-by shooting.

They left this world way before their time.

Natalie Clark was one of my &#8220babies,” a senior in high school ready to take on the world and the University of Alabama. She had given me a necklace bearing the Roll Tide emblem. She also surprised me with a framed picture of the two of us at the senior prom.

Five months after she graduated from high school, she was killed. Her murderer has still not been found.

At my brother's funeral in 1983, Gary Nunnelee told me something that I never forgot, something that stands out to me especially now.

&#8220Regina, the pain never really goes away; it just gets farther behind you.”

He was right.

As time goes by, you're finally able to talk about them without crying, and you can even laugh when remembering funny moments.

And I remember Gary's wordsŠŠagain.

The pain of losing someone you love just gets farther behind you as time rolls on because we all know that time is not stopping for anyone or anything.

&#8220I'll see all my friends in Hallelujah Square; What a wonderful time we'll all have up there. We'll sing and praise Jesus, His glory to share; And we'll all live forever in Hallelujah Square.”

Gary, I look forward to singing with you again one day.

Regina Grayson is managing editor of The Luverne Journal. She can be reached at 335-3541 or by email: regina.grayson@luvernejournal.com.