4 years? Where has the time gone?

I received notice from WordPress that today is my 4 year “blog-iversary” – I can hardly believe it!  So I decided to look back over my (122) posts.  I did the math (you are welcome) and over 48 months, I am averaging about 2.5 posts per month.  That is pretty pathetic, but if you realize that the first month, I published 12 posts (some were poems written long before I began blogging), and start with the 2nd month, the average per month drops to 2.3.

After the 1st year, it gets even worse.  During December 2010 (my first year blogging), I was posting nearly every day with a “Month of Gratitude”.  Granted the posts were short, but it raised my average considerably.  If I just do the math for the last 3 years, I posted a total of 52 times over 36 months.  Barely over once a month!

I started this blog to chronicle the journey I was traveling as the daughter of an Alzheimer’s patient – focusing on the “Spirit Within” both him and me.  It has been an outlet for me to express both gratitude and sadness, joy and grief, frustration and silliness.  But I am not sure there is much of a theme to it.

I read other blogs and am impressed by the writers’ ability to convey their message, whether it is sharing information, detailing their struggles, or offering humor.  I follow quite a few, and enjoy reading about the lives of people – some I have things in common with, others I feel I learn a lot from, many who make me laugh.  I don’t have many followers myself, the number of views I get for each post is limited, and I am not sure I am really contributing to the blogging world.

I am sitting here pondering the last 4 years, during which Dad passed away, and thinking there isn’t much more to say.  I may decide to start a different blog – if I find myself with something to share – but for now, I think I will just let this one fade into the void of the interwebs.  I’m not going to shut it down, but I am going to say good bye.

A heartfelt THANK YOU to the handful of you loyal readers and commenters – I’ll be in touch if I decide to start a new blog so you can decide if you want to follow it!

When I remember Grandmommy’s house…

When I remember Grandmommy’s house, it’s always Summer.  Or maybe Spring.  It’s at least warm enough to be outside.  We played outside a lot.  I have memories of poking underneath her azalea bushes, looking for Easter eggs with my cousins; running to the front yard with a dime clutched in my hand, trying to catch the ice cream truck as it made its way down the block; and catching fireflies after dark, putting them in an old mayonnaise or pickle jar with holes poked in the lid.  I suppose we visited other times of year, or perhaps it would be raining, because I also have memories inside the house, although this particular story took place on the brick patio outside the kitchen door.

Current view of Grandmommy's house courtesy of Google Street View (it hasn't changed much at all!)

Current view of Grandmommy’s house
(it hasn’t changed much at all!)

When we would visit, there was never a need to bring our own toys – Grandmommy had things for us to play with.  There was the stuffed dog – long, like a dachshund, but with blue velvet around the middle – I liked to sleep with my head on his middle part.  And the babydoll with a squishy belly and hard rubber arms, legs and face – I carried her around all the time, giving her bottles and rocking her to sleep.  It was the babydoll that got me in trouble one time – the only time my grandmother ever got mad at me.

The family next door had 3 girls – two, a few years younger than me, and Susan – a couple of years older.  Susan was tall, pretty, and most importantly the oldest.  She often decided what game we would play.

One time, I took the doll outside and met them in Grandmommy’s side yard.  Susan wanted to play operating room – she would be the doctor and her sisters and I would be the nurses.  So we got a butter knife, some Band-Aids, and a permanent marker.

Susan laid the doll on the patio table and pretended to cut her open with the butter knife.  When she was done, we put bandaids on her belly, and then drew scars and stitches on her arms and legs.  With the permanent marker.

When Grandmommy found out what we had done, she got mad – angrier than I had ever seen her.  She sat me down on her red kitchen stool – the kind with the steps that folded up underneath the seat – and scolded me for what felt like a long time.  She told me I was not allowed to play with the babydoll any more, and couldn’t take any toys outside.  I was more upset that she was mad at me than that I was being punished – I hated disappointing her.   But I’ve always wondered if Susan got in trouble too, since it was her idea!

Mixed Emotions

We are coming up on 2 important anniversaries.  Tomorrow is the 1 year anniversary of my father’s death.  I think about him every day, and miss him more than words can say.  Fortunately, when I look back on my life, I have many special memories of our time together – riding in the car on road trips or just to his farm in Maryland, dancing to big band music at the officers’ club on a ech college gradnearby military base, moving me into my college dorm, the smile on his face when I graduated, and the hug he gave me the last time I saw him.  I am grateful for those.  They usually bring a smile to my face, albeit often with tears in my eyes at the same time.

I know I am lucky to have had him in my life for 48 years.  His life was a long, successful, happy one.  He worked hard, provided well for his family, and loved me unconditionally.  I know it is selfish to want him back, but I do.  Even with the Alzheimer’s robbing him of his memory and his intelligence, I miss his gentle smile and warm eyes.  But then I remember that several of my students over the past few years have lost fathers to cancer or heart attacks or other tragic causes, and I feel terrible for feeling so sad about my dad.  At least he got to see me grow up.  He got to know me as an adult.  And I got to know him too.  My loss isn’t easy, but it isn’t as tragic as these other men who were taken from their families, their daughters, too soon.

I know I will miss Dad every day, but I don’t want to go through the rest of my life as sad as I have been.  The problem is that I don’t know how to miss him without feeling sadness too.  I think I am afraid that if I let go of the sadness, it will feel like I don’t miss him enough.  I try to focus on the fact that he would not have wanted to go on in his condition at the end.  But it is still hard to let go and move forward.

Moving forward is what the 2nd anniversary is all about – processing inSunday will be my first wedding anniversary!  I have mixed emotions about that too. Don’t get me wrong – I am beyond thrilled to have married the love of my life!  It was a long time coming.  I am just sad that it didn’t happen years before, when my dad was still able to travel and could have been there to give me a hug and to welcome Jeanne into the family as my wife.

Recently, I have become obsessed fascinated with the idea of a medium being able to channel loved ones from the “other side”.  I am beginning to believe that the spirits of those who have passed remain with us, sort of like guardian angels, hovering over and keeping tabs on what we are doing.  The one positive thing I can hang on to about my dad passing away 3 days before our wedding is, as our Best Woman put it, that was the only way Dad could be at the wedding with us.  It isn’t quite the same thing as if he had been there in body, but I do hope that he was there in spirit – and was as happy for us as we were for ourselves.

Never Say Never!

Memphis, Marriage, and Mocha – the lesson we have learned from these 3 things is to never say never.

In 1982, Jeanne drove through Memphis on her way from North Dakota to Biloxi, MS.  She was a 20-something Airman, going for training before her next duty assignment.  She had told me the story shortly after we had met (in the fall of 1993), describing what a nightmare it was trying to find a place to stop for the night, and being escorted out of town by a cop who told her she was the “wrong color, the wrong sex, and in the wrong part of town” and to move on down the road to Holly Springs.  She swore at the time that she would “never go back to Memphis!”

Fast forward to 1996.  She was ready to retire after 20 years in the USAF; I was nearing the end of grad school and ready to return to full-time teaching.  She suggested I open my job search to other locations (we were living in the DC area at the time), and that she would find a job wherever we landed.  Guess where we landed?  Never say never!

We’ve been together now for almost 20 years.  For almost 10 years, we were under the assumption that marriage was not something we could plan for.  At the time we met, same-sex marriage was not an option anywhere in the States.  Then, in 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to recognize it, although at the time, they required residency in that state, so we still didn’t have the option.  As other states started following MA in passing marriage equality, we discussed traveling somewhere to get married, but came to the agreement that, while we wanted to make a commitment to each other, we weren’t going to bother with a ceremony until it was legal where we lived. In 2006, Tennessee actually banned it by passing a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between 1 man and 1 woman, so we really thought it wasn’t going to happen in our lifetime. Never say never!

By early fall of 2012, there were 6 states plus the District of Columbia that offered marriage equality. (It is amazing how much progress has happened in the last year – we are now up to 14 states plus DC!)  That September, we attended the OutFlix film festival in Memphis, featuring movies geared towards the LGBT community.  The kickoff movie, sponsored by our church, was Cloudburst, starring Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker as long-time partners who live in Maine and go on a Thelma & Louise type road trip to Canada to get married.  At the end of the movie, even though they haven’t reached their destination, they have an impromptu ceremony when they realize that it is more important to make the commitment to each other than for any legal benefit it might give them.  As the lights came up in the theater, with tears streaming down my face, I turned to Jeanne and said “What are we waiting for?”  The next day, we started planning a wedding! Never say never!

It isn’t easy to plan a wedding in 8 weeks.  We wanted to keep it small and simple, but since we were making it into a road trip of our own, we had to deal with logistics like requesting a marriage license through the mail, finding a church & minister to conduct the ceremony, and shopping for our outfits – one thing I promised Jeanne early in the planning process was that she didn’t have to wear a dress, but I did insist she dress up a bit.  Jeans and a t-shirt just wouldn’t cut it!

As we dealt with the details, someone suggested we should set up a wedding registry so friends and family could celebrate with us by sending gifts.  After almost 2 decades of living together, including the purchase of 2 houses, we didn’t really see the necessity for that, but this friend insisted people would expect it, so we went to Bed, Bath and Beyond to see what it involved.  Their wedding registry process includes filling out a form that asks for the names of “spouse 1” and spouse 2”, which we thought was very cool!  They then handed us the scanner and said walk around and click on anything you want to add.  So we went to town.

As we walked by the coffee makers, Jeanne begged to put a Keurig machine on the list.  She had been wanting one for several years, and I had always said we didn’t need it.  I don’t drink coffee, and she doesn’t drink much of it, so it seemed like an expense that we could avoid.  After some debate, I agreed we could put the coffee maker on our wedding registry, but I never thought anyone would buy the pricey item.  Never say never!gift opening

When we opened the present, we both burst out laughing – Jeanne was excited to have her new “toy”, and I was cracking up at having to eat my words.  The really funny thing is that once I discovered that they make tea, chai, and hot chocolate k-cups, I started using the Keurig more than Jeanne does!

So you would think that we would learn to never say never.  Today, I took a quiz that is supposed to tell you what state best matches your personality.  It told me my best match was Utah.  Really?  I can never see myself moving there.  We’ll see what happens… because I should never say never!

The Trip of a Lifetime

I was re-reading a sermon I gave at Neshoba about three and a half years ago, and realized I had never posted it here on my blog.  So for what it’s worth…

The Trip of a Lifetime

One time, years ago, I decided to spend part of my spring break visiting a good friend who had moved to Colorado, about ½ way between Denver and Boulder.  I had never been to that part of the country and was excited about seeing what I had heard was beautiful scenery.  I was anxious to see as much as I could in the week that I had, and figured the best way to do that would be to travel by train.  To get from DC, where I lived at the time, to Denver, I had to change trains in Chicago.  I had driven from the East Coast to the mid-west many times growing up – my father’s family was in Wisconsin and Minnesota – so that part of the trip was not the motivating factor.  But I had not been in any of the states between the Mississippi River and California, so was really looking forward to watching out the train window as the Great Plains rushed past and the Rocky Mountains approached.

I packed carefully, made arrangements to be dropped off and picked up, and started out on my journey.  I left DC in the evening, leaving town just about the time the commuters were stuck in rush hour traffic.  As anyone who has traveled by train knows, there were many, many stops between DC and Chicago.  Sunset comes fairly early in March, so much of the trip was spent in darkness.  I was not concerned – after all, I had seen most of that route, at least from the interstate, many times.  It was the 2nd half of the journey that was most appealing.  I arrived in Chicago the following morning with an 8 hour layover ahead of me.  I read, knit, people-watched, and generally killed time waiting in the train station.  As I boarded the train bound for the West Coast, I could feel the excitement building!  I was going to see Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas… all those “square” states that I only knew about from social studies books and movies like the Wizard of Oz.

What I hadn’t counted on was that, just like the first leg of the trip, much of this second train ride would happen in the dark.  When you are traveling at 80 + mph through rural areas or alongside stretches of highway at night, from inside a lighted train, you can’t see much of anything.  Again, there were stops in lots of small towns through Illinois and Iowa.  It wasn’t long before I got bored looking at darkness and fell asleep.  At one point, something woke me up.  Perhaps it was the jarring of the train as it prepared to pull out of one of those small town stops.  I glanced out the window and saw a sign alongside the platform.  Ottumwa, Iowa.  Ottumwa, home of Radar O’Reilly!  I didn’t know it really existed!  I am a huge fan of M*A*S*H – I watched it “religiously” – pardon the pun – when I was growing up.  And here I was… in Ottumwa!  This unexpected moment on my trip has stayed with me for a long time.  A memory that even now, many years and many trips later, still brings a smile to my face.

My favorite vacations have always been road trips.  I really prefer to travel by car (or train!) rather than plane.  It’s not that I’m afraid to fly; I just love seeing new places and it’s hard to see the little things from 30,000 feet in the air!   Besides seeing different places, one of the best parts of road trips is that unexpected and unplanned things often happen!   I always have a destination, but the real fun often occurs before I get there. The stories that come out of those trips are often more about the route that I took, and the adventures that inevitably happened along the way, than about whatever I did once I got there.

Most of the trips I have taken over the years have resulted in some kind of adventure or another.  I have told the story here before of the road trip I took to Canada one summer – the time I locked my keys in the car while it was running.  (If you missed it, I’d be glad to fill you in later.)  Although memorable, that wasn’t one of the more enjoyable adventures.

There is also the story of my first road trip with Jeanne.  My car broke down just outside of Monteagle, TN.  The service station we got towed to didn’t have the right water pump to replace mine, so we were stuck there overnight. Although another less-than-enjoyable adventure, the motel / restaurant / wedding chapel combination where we found a room for the night will be another memory that stays with me for many years!

So there is always something.  Sometimes something fun happens – like seeing the sign for Ottumwa.  Other times, the event isn’t as fun – like locking my keys in the car.  But there is always something!   And so if I have a choice, I will take the road trip.  I will be a wanderer.  I will be a pilgrim.

I think there are 3 kinds of people in life.  There are the Dwellers, the Tourists, and the Pilgrims.  The Dwellers are those who are content to stay home, happy to dwell on days past, letting life happen to them, but not actively participating in the process.  The Tourists are those who focus on the goal, who will only be content when they reach a preconceived destination, but who miss many exciting opportunities to change course or at least incorporate new ideas along the way.  And then there are the Pilgrims.  Dictionary.com defines pilgrim in several ways, but one definition is a traveler or wanderer, especially in a foreign place.

On that train trip to Colorado, I missed seeing much of the countryside we traveled past.  The journey was worth it, though, for the memory of waking up in Ottumwa, Iowa.  I am sure I had a good time with my friend, and that she showed me around Denver and Boulder, but my best memory of that trip wasn’t from the destination.  It wasn’t something I saw as a tourist.  It was from the journey – something I saw as a pilgrim.

The concept of being on a pilgrimage usually conveys the idea that you are on a journey towards a destination.  The emphasis is on the journey.  Being a tourist is all about reaching the destination. It’s about what happens after you get there.  Personally, I feel the journey can be just as fun, just as exciting, just as interesting as the destination – sometimes more so!  My spiritual pilgrimage, my life story, has been all about the journey.  I believe I am in good company – many notable individuals have told stories about journeys.

Consider Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey – now that was the ultimate road trip!  Talk about adventures!  Odysseus had more than enough adventures for one man.  His destination was home – he had spent many years imprisoned by Calypso, and was finally journeying back to his loved ones.  But the story is about what happens to him – who he meets and what adventures he falls into.   I like to think of my life story that way.  I am on an odyssey, making my way home, wherever that may be, seeking my final destination but meeting interesting people and having adventures along the way.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary gives 2 definitions of the word Pilgrimage:

1 : a journey of a pilgrim; especially : one to a shrine or a sacred place
2 : the course of life on earth

Of course, we have all heard of the first kind of pilgrimage.  It usually has a religious connotation.  I like the 2nd definition – the course of life on earth.  The journey, the pilgrimage, can be physical or spiritual, emotional or practical.   It can involve a specific time-frame with a specific result, or be a lifelong process, working towards finding the truth.  I like to think of myself as a pilgrim, journeying through my life, seeking a sacred place within myself.

The sacred place I am seeking is related to my idea of spirituality.   For me, spirituality is internal, an inner path to peace, understanding and truth.  Elizabeth Lesser distinguishes between what she calls Old Spirituality and New Spirituality.  She says that Old Spirituality involves believing the church has ultimate authority, that they should dictate how you worship, how you behave, what the one path to God looks like, that Truth is like a rock, never changing, perceived the same by all.  But New Spirituality looks much different.  You are your best authority, finding for yourself how to live a spiritual life.  Your deeper longings are your compass on your life’s journey.  The truth is like the horizon—forever ahead of you, forever changing its shape and color. You can let your spiritual path change and diverge as you journey toward it.

I am still working on finding my compass, finding how to live a spiritual life.  I have, however, identified several characteristics that I believe are an important part of that process.  I believe that a life lived spiritually embodies certain qualities, and we must nurture them in ourselves and in others – only thus can we nurture our spirit.

In all that we say, all that we do, all that we are, we must be sincere and authentic.  According to Confucius, “Faithfulness and sincerity are the highest things.”  If we are not honest with ourselves and with others, our spirit will not thrive.

Along with honesty in what we say, we must exhibit honor and integrity in what we do.  If honesty is telling others the truth, integrity is telling ourselves the truth.  It is doing the right thing, even when nobody is watching.  Honorable actions foster confidence from others – and if we cannot be trusted, our inner spirit will fade.

Towards those with whom we share this life, our fellow travelers in the journey, we must demonstrate not only honor and integrity, but also tolerance and acceptance. English novelist Sir Walter Besant said, “Tolerance is the eager and glad acceptance of the way along which others seek the truth.”  Without regard for diversity, whether diversity in culture, opinion, sexual orientation, race or any other characteristic, without appreciation for our differences, our spirit will wither.

Our vision of those with whom we share this life should not be limited to fellow human beings.  All life has beauty, and we should seek it, revere it, in all that we encounter. For the beauty in the world around us, we should feel wonder and awe.  According to Albert Schweitzer, “Affirmation of life is the spiritual act by which man ceases to live thoughtlessly and begins to devote himself to his life with reverence in order to give it true value.”  Without respect for the interconnectedness of the world, without reverence for the mystery of life, our spirit will weaken.

We must also find that which brings us joy, whether it is person, place or thing, and experience it with a passion that can expand that feeling and share it with others. Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”  If we don’t find happiness, if we don’t love, and delight in that feeling, our spirit will not grow.

And to have all of these qualities, we must be open to learning new things, to using our intellect, to increasing our understanding of each other and the world around us. For it is by not using our mind that our spirit becomes most fragile.

So, if we have Sincerity, Passion, Integrity, Reverence, Intellect, and Tolerance in our everyday lives, if we foster them in each other, we will be able to nurture our spirit as we find our path towards the horizon.

I have a saying – I don’t get lost, I just keep driving until something looks familiar.  I think my spiritual journey is like that.  I just keep going until it seems familiar.  Some people describe feeling “lost” until they find their path to the truth, whatever that may be.  I have never had a sense of being “lost”… I just haven’t reached my destination yet.  For many years, I stayed away from any form of religion, but it was while driving near my home in Virginia one day that I noticed a very pretty church on a hill.  I think it was the daffodils and dogwood trees that first caught my eye. It was an Episcopalian church, and one Sunday morning, I decided to check it out.  I was comfortable with the familiarity of it, but quickly realized that it was just a stop on the journey, not the final destination.  Again, I pulled away from the structure of what I perceived as a very limiting, conforming tradition that did not quite fit with my belief system.  A number of years later, after my physical journey led me to Memphis, my spiritual journey led me to Neshoba.  Although I am still on the journey – this is not yet the final destination – I do feel that I have found a “home base” from which to explore the avenues that are open to me.  And I have definitely met some interesting people and had some exciting adventures along the way.

When I tried Episcopalian on for size, it felt familiar, but that was just because of its similarity to my childhood experience.  When I found Unitarian Univeralism, it felt familiar in a different way.  It felt like I was finally on the right path for my pilgrimage.  In each moment of my journey, I feel more and more at home as a UU.  I’m not to my destination yet, but I am sure enjoying the trip!

Every day, my experiences take me further on the path to truth, further on my journey.  As long as I am living, I will never reach my destination – I’ll always be moving, reaching for the horizon.  I’ll always be a pilgrim.  May your pilgrimage be interesting, adventurous, and long lasting. May it be so.  And Amen.

A way to honor those who gave unselfishly

Heroes are those who go above and beyond. They put their lives on the line for others, sacrifice much for the good of all, show courage when most of us would run from danger.  I am no hero.  I’m not sure I would run into a burning building or charge down an airplane aisle to tackle a bad guy.  I never served our country by joining the military (although I have family members who did and I am extraordinarily proud of them).  But I can try to go above and beyond.

I heard about the 21-day kindness challenge on another blog that I follow.  The blogger, Jane, says this about doing random acts of kindness:

Admit it. When you give someone a gift, big or small, and it makes them smile, you feel pretty good about yourself. Am I right? In a way, this seems a bit selfish. Doing nice things for people in order to make you feel good. And it is selfish. But in a good way.

I have done small things for people – paid a toll for the person behind me, offered to drive a friend to an event, helped someone load groceries in their car when they had a child with them – and it does make me feel good.  But as Jane wrote on her blog, these random acts have been few and far between, occurring when it was easy and convenient for me.  I pulled out an extra dollar when paying my own toll, was going to the event anyway, had the time to help.

This 21-day challenge will involve a more deliberate effort, as well as some creativity, to find opportunities and come up with ideas of how to brighten someone’s day.  But if it brings a smile to someone’s face, or encourages them to “pay it forward”, it will be worth the effort.  And maybe, just maybe, I will develop a habit that will change the world for the better.

Are you in?  Let’s honor those who gave everything 12 years ago by giving just a little now.

Revisions

I have a hard time with the idea of a “first draft”.  I want whatever I write to be perfect from the get-go, but sometimes, when I step back for a while and then return to look at it with fresh eyes, I realize that it really would be better with a revision.  This happened recently with the poem I wrote and posted back in July.  I mentioned having written it to a colleague, an English teacher, and she asked if I would be willing to read it to her.  When I looked it over and imagined reading it out loud to someone who analyzes poetry with her students all the time, I decided it needed some improvements.  So here is the 2nd draft… it may be changed again in the future, but for now, I think it is at least a little improved.

Sacred Ground
 
Within each of us is a spark of the Divine,
Always lit, never consumed.
 
In the presence of this fire
We hear the voice of our God,
Of our Goddess, of our Holy.
“You are on Sacred Ground.”
 
In the presence of this flame
In me, in you, in us,
Walking, standing, gathering -
We are on sacred ground.
 
In the presence of this fire
We are compelled
To take up a torch, to carry a flame,
To seek a sacred ground.
 
In the presence of this spark
We are committed
To light the fire of passion, of life, of holy work.
To journey towards truth on Sacred Ground.

 

 

Sacred Ground

Last month, I attended General Assembly, the annual gathering of the UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association), at which there are business meetings, workshops, and social events.  Each day, there were breakout sessions called Reflection Groups.  We met with 8-10 other attendees to discuss assigned topics and to share our thoughts on our experience at GA.

One of the Reflection topics was the Biblical story of Moses and the burning bush.  One member of the group read it aloud and then we reflected on what part of it spoke to us the most.  We were asked to consider how we could apply the message of that story to ourselves as UUs.  From that discussion, I was inspired to write the following poem.  I shared it with my congregation last week as our Chalice Lighting words.

Sacred Ground
 
Within each of us is a spark of the Divine,
A burning bush,
Always lit, never consumed,
That speaks the voice
Of our God, of our Goddess, of our Holy.
“You are on Sacred Ground.”
 
In the presence of this fire,
Whether in ourselves or in another,
We are standing, we are walking, we are traveling
On Sacred Ground.
 
We are compelled, we are committed,
To take up the torch,
To carry the flame
To light the fire of passion, of life, of holy work,
As we journey towards truth
On Sacred Ground.
 

Soul Sisters

In honor of National Poetry Month (and today’s “A Poem in my Pocket” event), I would like to share my most recent poem, written after walking a candlelight labyrinth during our annual Women’s Retreat at Neshoba Church.

Soul Sisters by Chrystal Hogan

Soul sisters, on a journey, we tread our own path.
In… out… circling ’round…
Passing those who lead, watching those who follow.
Footsteps resonate,
Beating a rhythm that matches the cadence of our hearts.
 
Sometimes I move toward her -
Others, I move away.
Sometimes we travel side by side,
One moving forward, the other returning home.
 
Lost, I put one foot in front of the other until I find my center. 
Walking alone, I am not alone.
I follow the path created by another,
Showing the way to sisters I bring to the circle.
 

We buried my father yesterday

We buried my father yesterday.  It was a long, difficult, emotionally draining day.  But there were amazing moments that will stay with me for a long time.  Because the funeral home in charge was in Delaware and the funeral was in DC, we didn’t have a visitation the night before.  Instead, the immediate family received the guests at the back of the church before the service began.

St. Peter's

St. Peter’s Catholic Church

I was amazed at how many people were there – old family friends from my childhood years, who I hadn’t seen in decades.  Family and friends from all over the country – my mom and I counted 20 states and the District of Columbia were represented, if you include my cousin’s husband who lives in Minnesota but works several weeks each month in Alaska, and flew in from there.  The full list is: Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington state, Texas, Alaska, and of course DC.  My Dad’s life touched many, many people and it meant so much to me that they wanted to be there to let us know how much he meant to them.

The priest gave a very nice homily, honoring Dad.  Then my brother and my cousin both gave eulogies.  I have to say, Terry, my brother, did an amazing job.  It was heartfelt, honest, humorous, and above all was a perfect tribute to my dad.  We laughed and we cried.  I only wish he was able to give me a copy so I could share it with you.  But he spoke from his heart, not his notes.  He didn’t have any of it written down.  And it never occurred to me to grab the iphone and record it – what I would give to have it to listen to when I want to remember his description of my dad.

After Terry was finished, my cousin, Shannon, who was one of Dad’s goddaughters, shared a few stories of times she remembered with Dad – also heartfelt and touching.  We then processed out to the Navy hymn, chosen by Mom to honor Dad’s Naval service.

From the church, we processed to Arlington National Cemetery, where Dad was interred with full military honors.  If you have never been to a military funeral, I am not sure I can describe it.  The solemnity with which they conduct the entire ceremony was incredibly moving.  First, we arrived at the administration building to make sure that everyone was there before we proceeded to the actual gravesite.  Once we were ready, everyone got in their cars and we drove to what was referred to as the staging area.

caisson

photo courtesy of my niece, Cassi

We stopped, got out of the cars, and watched as they moved the casket from the hearse to the horse-drawn caisson.  We then walked behind as he was taken another couple of blocks to where the grave was.  Marching in front of the caisson was the Navy Honor Guard flight – about 30 sailors in dress uniform with bayonetted guns on their shoulders – and a band that played as we walked, as well as at the graveside.

After the family was seated, the priest said a few prayers.  We then stood for the military honors. The Naval pallbearers removed the flag and held it tight over the casket.  While they stood there, a bagpiper played Amazing Grace, 7 men shot off 3 rounds each for the 21-gun salute, and then a trumpeter played Taps.  The pallbearers folded the flag, and it was presented to my mother. The Captain who handed it to her said, “On behalf of the President, the department of the Navy and our country, we want to thank your husband for his dedication and service.”  That flag will always be a reminder of Dad’s commitment to what he felt was his patriotic duty to serve in the Navy.

I have shed a lot of tears since that night in November when mom told me he was gone.  I imagine I will shed many more in the days and weeks ahead.  But I am glad that he is no longer trapped in a body that couldn’t walk and a mind that couldn’t remember.

view of AF mem

photo courtesy of my niece, Cassi

If I didn’t know it before, after talking to family and friends this week, I know that he loved me as much as I loved him.  I also know that he will always be with me – in my heart.  And I can always go visit him, at a lovely spot right between the Pentagon and the Air Force Memorial.  What an honor!