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.
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.
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.
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!