“He’s being cremated, I don’t know if it’s the right decision but it has been decided”, I had never heard these words before, well not for a loved one of mine. Cremated. How do you say good-bye and find closure when there is no body to see and gaze upon and say “good-bye” to…I must discover this…soon.
Today happens to be February 8th and this days always brings with it the echo of my big brother Mike calling me before I got the chance to call him and hear his deep voice singing, “Happy Birthday to me…happy birthday to me..” then his voice trails off in my mind as it has been over 13 years since I heard him sing or speak. Mike left this earth unexpectedly too early and too young and I look forward to our reunion in heaven.
I recall standing back and seeing our father peer into the homemade casket as he hadn’t seen Mike for nearly 30 years. He told me later he couldn’t quite see the four year old boy he last saw in the face of the 43 year old laying there void of life that Autumn day.
Mike and I were blessed to have been raised by an amazing dad who gave us his name and stood before a judge with his wife and called us their own. Our dad and our father sadly peered into the casket that day. This man was our father, our biological father, the man who will be cremated tomorrow morning.
I often think of my two fathers; both World War II veterans, same age, both lost their hearing as they aged requiring me to talk very loudly to them both. In the end both had a mind that slowly began to leave us prior to the final beats of their hearts. To the dad who chose me, loved and raised me since I was 12 months old I said my good-bye to over 6 years ago.
I am grateful for the years I’ve had to get to know the man who gave me my English, Danish, and Irish heritage. As he may not have had too many memories of me he would repeat the few he had including recalling how I would stare at all the Christmas tree lights when they brought me home from the hospital as I was born in Chicago two days before Christmas. He also recalled how I didn’t smile much as a baby; that surprised me as I was always told I didn’t smile much when Mike and I arrived to our new foster family on my first birthday.
Only God knows what that means but I love to smile now, well, other than today maybe.
I’m gazing now at our beautiful white orchid that finally bloomed Saturday evening. We’d been waiting months for new buds and then weeks before the first was willing to open Saturday night. Interesting…it was the following morning, early Sunday morning my father took his last peaceful breath in his sleep. As the orchid bloomed my father was leaving this earth. What a beautiful gift of beauty God has offered to me this week.
I will never again gaze upon my father yet I have the memory of our last visit as he ate one of my husband’s cookies which he loved. As I left him that day he told me how happy he was that he ran into me that day. Words to further confirm he didn’t know me or that I drove to see him specifically at the Veteran’s home and yes, bring him cookies. That day, with the cookie in his hand, is the picture I have in my mind to remember and say my good-bye to …and that is OK.
In two days I will be finding my first step of closure as I gaze upon his empty room and upon the few earthly belongings he left behind. I will have the pictures, the memories and those memories he had of me now tucked neatly in my heart. No, he didn’t raise me, or walk me down the aisle, or guide, love and discipline me as my dad did. Yet, God allowed him to be my father. As I continue on this journey I carry a piece of him and the heritage he passed on to me and I will be grateful for him and for the years we had.
I long for the warmth of spring time and know that my final good-bye will be as the sound of taps is playing, the flag will be folded and rifles will be shot honoring his military service during the Second World War.
Tonight the snow continues to fall on this cold February day as I celebrate the day my brother entered this world, grieve the end of my father’s life and gaze upon an orchid in full bloom reminding me of the beauty and brevity of life on this earth. And yes, I will smile again.