As a Baby Boomer I’m part of that generation seeing their parents pass from the scene. Both of mine are gone, and my wife is an anomaly in that hers both survive into their 90s.
I am one of the fortunate, among those who grieved not “as those who have no hope.” My parents were believers in Christ, assured of their eternal destination. My brothers and I, along with others who loved my parents, grieved when they suffered and became mere shadows of the vibrant people they had been.
But when they passed we were thrilled for them. We rejoiced with them. Did we grieve? Sure we did. We grieved with all our might. But we didn’t wail and moan and despair. We didn’t shake our fists at God and demand to know what we were supposed to do now.
My father passed first, more than 10 years ago now. The painful part of that was watching him go from an ex-Marine and police chief—an independent, disciplined, can-do man’s man—to a helpless invalid virtually overnight due to strokes. It broke our hearts to see him trapped in a worthless body that failed him when he had earned a life of leisure.
That was when we grieved and mourned.
When he finally, mercifully died, we immediately remembered the man he had been and celebrated that—along with his graduation to where he belonged. And then we were able to view his funeral with both the dignity and the humor that attended it.
The ceremony came with the formality afforded a World War 2 veteran and a career law enforcement officer. There was majesty and pomp. But there were also gaffes, silly mistakes his sons knew would have made him press his lips together and shake his head, and at which we could only giggle.
Three ancient vets older than our father showed up at the snowy gravesite for the 21-gun salute, and discovered that they had one blank each among them. They conspired that they would fake the volley by raising their weapons and firing three separate times, a different man actually shooting each time.
They forgot, and so the first volley consisted of three ill-timed blanks. Bang-bang … bang. The second volley: click … click-click. The third: click … click. Long pause. Nudge. Click.
Two of the same soldiers were called upon to lower a flag, fold it and present it to my mother with three ceremonial empty rifle shells in it. Everyone knows the triangular result should be entirely the star-festooned blue portion of the banner. But the soldier on the star end began the folding, which meant his part would be hidden first. My mother merely turned and gazed at me, both of us suppressing smiles at the thought of what my father would have said: “Give me the blamed thing; I’ll fold it myself.”
They got to the end and one said, “That can’t be right.”
“It’s fine,” my mother said, reaching for it as the shells slipped from it into the snow.
Then the grandchildren filed between the casket and my mother’s rickety plastic chair, each leaning to embrace her. Our middle son, a two-hundred-and-plenty pound college athlete, felt his gimpy knee about to give way, and tried to steady himself with his other foot, only to have it begin sliding in the snow. It took every ounce of his strength to keep landing atop her.
When he finally righted himself, ashen faced he whispered to me, “I almost killed Grandma at Grandpa’s burial.”
The family still talks about my dad and the many ways his character influenced all our lives. We grieved, but not as those without hope. For our hope is that we will see him again one day and laugh anew at the day he was laid to rest.