The Funeral service was over. Just like that.
My head was spinning.
It was as if I was then transported through a surreal tunnel of thickly paneled, transparent walls…like I was surrounded by bubble wrap. I could not feel my feet against the floor. I could not hear anything but the roar of people talking around me. I could sense with the razor sharp instinct of a lioness the crying of my grandchildren. I could hear them but couldn’t find them in the crowd.
I was quickly whisked away through the back and then through a lobby full of total strangers waiting for yet another funeral to follow. I have to admit I had a wave of resentment about that. So many strangers standing around in groups waiting and talking among themselves as if they were waiting in a theater lounge for the opening of the next performance.
As I walked out into that sea of people to leave through the front door, I remember seeing a table stacked with doughnuts and cookies. Coffee and tea.
As if this were some kind of friendly reception.
I had to fight the urge to scream.
I wanted more privacy. I wanted more time. I wanted more quiet. I wanted so much more.
I wanted the world to stop.
Please stop and let me off now. Yes, thank you, I want to get off here.
The next thing I remember is being put back into that trusty white van by my CAO. There, I sat looking out the window while everyone and everything on the outside seemed to move in painstakingly slow motion.
Was this a dream? Certainly a nightmare.
My son was in the lead vehicle a few cars ahead. The following car was filled with his children. Then us.
I looked ahead at the flashing yellow lights as we pulled away, and the many motorcycles filling in the gaps. I looked into the side view mirror at the many cars behind.
Yes. I was now part of a procession. Part of a sad, sad string of those still alive following behind the vehicle that led the way, carrying my son.
And let me tell you…if I could have been in that leading hearse, I surely would have.
I would have sat in the back with him the entire way.
The highway seemed to be such a long stretch. I know it probably wasn’t far from the funeral home to grave site…but to me it seemed bare and naked and horribly, horribly long.
It was a long, long stretch of dull and boring land…nothing really to see. And then up ahead I could see it. Up on the hill and to the right. Acres and acres of rolling land dotted with headstones.
Not just average headstones. No. Here were military headstones. Hundreds and hundreds of them.
A flagpole stood high on the hill of it…its flag half staff.
Oh! Son…it is half staff for you. And son…if I had the power, every single flag in this country would do this today. Every single one.
I remember pulling into the long and winding drive. Pulling up to a huge, thickly cemented pavilion with benches lined up in neat rows underneath it.
I then got out of the van, was escorted to the front row, and sat down. Michael’s Dad was seated beside me.
And I have to tell you that sitting beside my son’s father would have meant everything to Michael. Everything.
We are here doing this together, Son. Your Dad and me. Front row, center.
Oh, I have been so stupid. His lifelong wish coming true way too late.
I have told you before in a past post but it is worth telling you again.
Michael used to ask me…used to tell me from time to time…
Mom, what will it take to bring everyone together? A funeral?
Yes, Son, it would. My Sweet, Sweet Boy.
It would take yours.
To our left, the hearse backed in. Several soldiers lined up and the back door was opened.
Slowly the casket was rolled out…soldiers helping, three on each side.
It was then that the idea of that casket being extra large and extra wide stood out. As it was inched from the back of the hearse, the soldiers wavered under the weight of it. You could tell it was so heavy by their struggle.
I looked up at Michael’s father and we laughed out loud at that. Because both of us understood that Michael would have laughed, too. He would have made some type of snarky joke about it.
Yes, that is me…right up front wearing not black but military blue. As I look at this now, I am overwhelmed with the reality of it.
He was so close to me just then…I could have reached out and touched him then.
I will never be that close again.
His coffin was so beautifully draped with a flag. The Army knows how to do things so well in ceremonies like this. All of the formality, in spite of the fact that it is so ritualistic and just that…formal…well, it made things so incredibly beautiful. So beautiful.
Words were spoken…blur, blur, blur.
And have I mentioned yet how HOT it is in the middle of Texas on the first of July? Hotter than hot.
After the Chaplain said his words…it was time to fold the flag.
The soldiers who carried my son’s coffin from the hearse lined up on each side of it the same. In complete silence they began the formality of folding that flag.
And it was hard for them. I mean, that coffin was so wide that they had to really stretch over it to make the ends meet. And let me tell you they worked in total perfection. With sharp, precise, and I’m sure well rehearsed movements. I remember a soldier in the middle with his back toward me. He strained under the pressure, I guess. You could see his hands shaking…the sweat rolling down the sides of his face. He stood high on his toes to make his side of the flag meet that of the soldier opposite him.
He was so young…so young to have such a big responsibility. I bet he realized the weight of it.
I had to fight the urge to get up and help him. I wanted to tell him that he was doing such a fine job and that we were so honored by his part in all of this. I wanted to put my arm around his shoulder and tell him to relax, Sweet Boy…relax. You are doing such a beautiful job and I know that your Momma would be so proud of you.
I remember vividly the folding of that flag…how each and every fold was creased in the most perfect of ways. How the soldier who held it last made sure the points were sharper than sharp. It was now a perfect triangle. Absolutely perfect.
We each were handed a flag then…his children, his father, and me. The soldier who offered it to me came toward me with such a posture of respect that I was deeply moved. I wanted to remain aware of each and every movement. Slowly and methodically, but with deep and heartfelt respect…he lifted his right hand to his brow…and saluted me.
He saluted me.
Oh! The overwhelm.
Never, ever have I been saluted before.
You will have to forgive me about the timing of how things went during this service…I have a hard time placing what happened when.
But at one point we stood for the gun salute.
One. Two. Three.
I closed my eyes and tried to take it all in. Felt the vibration of each bullet as if it shot straight through my heart.
Yes, please make it as loud as you can…please let all those who are near hear it.
My son is about to be buried. Six feet under this cold, hard ground.
And I have saved this for last. The playing of TAPS.
Oh! How can I tell you? That the playing of that song will forever ring in my head. It will replay as fresh and as new as it did that very day.
The trumpet calling out long and extended notes…the way it draws out like crying. Wailing the way I longed to do myself.
I knew that there are lyrics to it, so later I looked them up to be sure of what they were. I wanted to know. I needed to know.
You will hear the weeping trumpet, too, as you read these words.
Day is done, gone the sun,
From the hills, from the lake,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.
Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep.
Love, good night, Must thou go,
When the day, And the night
Need thee so?
All is well. Speedeth all
To their rest.
Fades the light; And afar
Goeth day, And the stars
Fare thee well; Day has gone,
Night is on.
Thanks and praise, For our days,
‘Neath the sun, Neath the stars,
‘Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.
Yes, I know you can hear it, too.
Like I will for the rest of my life.
Yes. Go to sleep, Son. If you must go, Love…
then sleep well.
Fare thee well.