Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It Was A Beautiful Service

So, now...about the service, taken mostly from my journal that night....

It was a beautiful memorial service. The flowers were beautiful. We did a nice job of it with the memorabilia tables and photo boards. The honor guard was so, so beautiful and moving.

First the chaplain entered and came up to the front where we had on the table the main flower arrangement, Dad's Navy dress portrait which I matted and framed, and his urn (brushed silver metal with the Navy insignia on the side and engraved underneath) and a beautiful red rose in a bud vase (from Baby Hannah, his great-grandchild). The chaplain bowed to Dad's urn and then took a seat behind the lectern.

Then the Navy personnel entered, silently and slowly making their way down the aisle to the front where they solemnly saluted Dad's ashes. There were the two flag soldiers (a man and a woman) and a Captain - a very special deal I was told. Paul (my brother) said he was a Chaplain because he had crosses on his shoulder bars.

Then the side door to the courtyard was opened and we could hear the Air Force rifle guard getting into position. Those of us in the front two family rows could see our the door and watch as they gave Dad a nine gun salute, firing three volleys of three rifles. Then a soldier played Taps. All of it got me and I could not hold back from crying off and on throughout.

Then the soldiers inside took the flag which was folded and resting against the urn. They ceremonially unfolded it and with a snap held it out horizontal to the ground by all four corners. With great precision and formality they then refolded it and presented it to the Captain, who gave a long salute staring directly into the face of the female soldier holding it out for him. He took the flag and then she gave a long slow salute in return. He then walked over to me and presented the flag to me, speaking words of commemoration and honor about Dad's service, thanking him for that service on behalf of the President and the military, and thanking us as well. Then he handed me a little pouch with three of the rifle shells from the gun salute. Wow.

They would have given it to Becky (Dad's wife) but she didn't make it to the service. I am sad for her, knowing the emotions of the event were too much for her - as well as the physical. (She went into the Emergency Room herself just hours before Dad did and was in a surgical procedure under anaesthesia when Dad passed away.) My feelings are mixed about her absence but part of me knew all along it was a very real possibility. Paul and Dave (brothers) elected to have me receive the flag in her stead.

Dad would have loved to have seen it all, pleased that it was done for him.  My brother, Dave, mentioned this in his talk.  While Dad had clearly said to all of us that he didn't want people hovering over his body at a funeral and didn't want all the fuss of everyone gathering around crying and sad...we know, too, that he would have been fairly "tickled" at the military honors and being remembered so lovingly by we who spoke and those who came.

Then the chaplain gave his talk. He was not at all what I ever imagined he would be. He was elderly and spoke unbiblical platitudes about every person being a child of God and welcomed by Him into the heavenly afterlife. And all in one of those sing-songy manners of voice. I almost giggled at how ridiculous he sounded and I was fairly amazed at the syrupy untruths he spoke about everyone being received into heaven. Dad probably would have quietly disliked such a "sermon" if only for the fluffy manner of presentation.

At last it was our turn to speak. Dave spoke first. He talked comfortably and engagingly about Dad's personality, tremendous skills, his love of new adventures, and his rare but wonderful bedside manner with his patients. He relayed that the night before a surgery, Dad could always be found sitting right on the patient's bed explaining and drawing out exactly what was wrong with them and what he was going to do the next day in surgery to fix it - putting all fears aside in his patient.

Paul shared some personal memories of times with Dad. The memories were so special, I loved it. About skiing together - first at Crystal Mountain and then at all the great places out west. He shared about one special day in Snowmass where they rode multiple chair lifts for over an hour all the way to the top. Then they skied just the top over and over until Dad said they ought to do the whole run top to bottom at least once. So they did. An hour's ride to the top and a 15 minute run to the bottom. They were exhausted when they finished but so satisfied. Paul said he has often looked back and thought if he could live any days over in his life, that would be one of them.

He shared about when Dad had his ear surgery and took a year's leave of absence. He bought a pool table and he and Paul spent hours playing pool into the night. He said they both got pretty good. Later in life, they played golf together, noting that they weren't very good either of them. And how Dad always used yellow balls (we had one on the memorabilia table). He related how one time Dad hit a beautiful shot, straight and soaring...but headed right for a shaggy overgrown palm tree. The ball hit the thick skirting of dead palm fronds and completely disappeared. From their distant position they saw this ball drop down out of the tree. When they got there, it was a white ball! Not Dad's ball at all! What are the odds?!

Then he talked about when he got his first medical job as an orderly at Phoenix General Hospital and how everyone came up to him and told him how much they liked and respected Dad.  Doctors, nurses, and even the housekeeping staff! WOW!

Then it was my turn. I had a brief intro, listing three words to describe Dad: friendly, interesting, and excellence. Then I read my Thank You Dad piece I'd given him on Father's Day several years ago. When I got to the line thanking Dad for walking me down the aisle I stopped, cried, and then looked up to address Kira (my step-sister) saying I'm so sorry she won't get to experience that. She had been crying at the thought anyway, but when I said that to her she broke down even more.

At the end I explained about Becky not being able to be there, being not well herself and having recently been in the hospital, too. I didn't have any of it written down so it didn't come out like I would have preferred but I said that they had been married 17 years, that Dad loved her and spent the last 17 years of his life with her, enjoying things together, reading, watching movies and that they loved each other and took care of each other.

A couple of minutes later, the service was over and we were all being greeted by many people. My friends were there, Sherri, Lori, Cindy and Buzz, and Pam. Former partners of Dad's, colleagues in medicine, names I have long known. Friends of my brothers came. Friends of my nieces and nephews. My brother-in-law came. Old family friends came. And patients came.

But the one that got me the most was when I saw Pam. I just lost it and tears came when I saw her and hugged her. My friend since 2nd Grade. My ski trip buddy on trips with Dad. It was so special that she was there. We don't often see each other, or even talk with each other often these days, but our bond is strong and when we get together, it is as if only a heartbeat of time has passed.  It was so special that she was there.

I took photos of the memorabilia tables, Dad's uniform, flight suit, Navy dress hat, the flowers and such.  And I am so sad to report that in a blindly foolish moment while attempting to upload them to my computer, I lost them all.  I'd been warned about removing memory cards and disconnecting card readers too soon...and now I will never forget or in a sudden and non-thinking moment do it again.

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