thoughts on my uncle’s funeral…

thoughts on my uncle’s funeral…

the approach, the slow wind up the familiar road, a family plot destination, a crossroads in a ghost town hosting the event, narrow lanes, not designed for traffic, lined with names, almost familiar by crossing past so many times now, pathways made least not for this procession, what part in line am I suppose to be? the stupid banal base anxiety of not knowing moment to moment certainty, in a place of certainty, the cars start to arrive at the final stop, should I move up? or, knowing my elderly mother can not walk, as well as she used to, but knowing how stubborn she is not to show it, we arrive, almost last, making the gathered have to wait, I could feel the pressure, but then thought, why? another minute will not change a thing, but still I hurried a bit, and my mother struggling to be at the side of her sister, the two left, the two of that generation’s house, and so the ceremony began, in the little narrow street, outside the complex that would house my uncle’s body, next to my father’s, for at least as long as I can count in my waning days, and then I see the casket, draped in an American flag, how was I unaware this was going to be a military funeral? the military is not touted much in my family, not sure why, just the way things are, my father was in the army for a short time but it was almost this unspoken thing, my uncle? I never knew, but there I was, it has not felt like two years since I was on this very spot, for much the same reason, but a hit closer to home, the wind felt just as cold, but the audience was larger with the covid specter no longer looming and ruling, a star spangled casket, I had never seen one up close, the two soldiers, the procedure, the bugle blowing across the stark-silence, even in this cemetery there is quiet, somehow, nestled in the bosom of a noisy-busy suburbia, a large bustling shopping mall across the street buzzing with shoppers at all hours, on this side, this side of the street, just the somber tones of my uncle’s last rest standing in the little street until the bugle notes end, the flag ceremony seems to take forever and a second, so deliberate, and I understand, the careful folding of the flag, handing it to my aunt, which struck me grand, for some reason all I could notice was how the bugle was placed on the ground, then, escorting my elderly mother down the dirt worn-path, to the family plot, I knew the way, her thinning white hair blowing around in the wind, her steps not steady but determined, all of us in a straight lines, almost double file military style, we fall into, and then right angles at tall headstones, the snaking procession of black-clad walked, I don’t like to be in the front, and I thought, also especially since this is not my affair to hang back, the generations, how they move like this strange dead conga line, a great grandchild in a carrier in tow, sleeping, unaware, but one day can be told he was there, dangling there in front of me, looking at the baby’s eyes, in jealousy or awe or wonder, all of these, for babies are the most amazing of things, (how else can you see the future?), so I escort my mom through to the front, the oldest generation of ours now whittled down to two, my mother as one, her sister as two- the one whom today buries her husband next to my mother’s, my father, so few were at his funeral due to covid this seems some surreal re-do, his stone covered over by the dirt that will cover the body of my uncle soon, so even now, now that a family is assembled he seems to be missing that much more, not to take the day away from my uncle, a quiet man of sorts, whom I never heard raise a voice, perhaps even a better man than my father in some regards, but we do not choose our parents, and they are as flawed as we are, some more than others, some less, but now none of that seems to matter anymore, I linger on the edge of the ceremony, trying to get as much sun as I can, the wind on one side ringing my ear, the sun, just enough to keep me slightly warmed, my uncle’s was not a sudden death, somewhat expected, but does that matter now? at these moments? standing here, I suppose not, I am not religious but I listen intently to the ceremonial notes, for thousands of years these same traditions have endured, why should I pretend my lack of belief should come into interfere in any way here, no, for the sake of those I participate, the good spirit is there, from the tradition of wearing a ripped ribbon to mourn, to how dirt is to be placed on the coffin by those who mourn, that sound though, I could not bring myself to lift the shovel and engage in that, the sound of dirt hitting the coffin down in the ground, I remember it well from my father’s funeral, it is an awful sound, the sentiment, is dear, the tradition says a stranger should not be the first to bury your loved one, which I understand, I felt compelled with my father to participate, but not here, not today, rather watch as those immediately in his circle turned the spade over in reverence once, and then two shovel fulls, ceremony, things we can hang on to even if our loved ones are gone, the family plot taking in one more resident this day, so I might come back in the spring, when the grass has set in, and place a stone on my dad’s name, and my uncle the same, and truly hope there is peace out there for humanity.
the words of my aunt (the bereaved) most echoed with me… (my uncle had parkinson’s and other debilitating maladies the past few years)
“in his clear moments he said ‘you are the best thing that has ever happened to me, I love you’ and then one last time, I came into his room, I saw him crying, I asked him why? he said simply ‘because I have to say goodbye’ “

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