The Burial Day
It was the longest drive I had ever taken. It was cold, bitter cold. The highway was empty of life. The funeral procession went on for miles. I sat in the passenger seat staring out the window as we drove. Recollecting memories of him. I was trying so hard to clinch to every memory I could to help prevent me from forgetting him. The tears never stopped. I dreaded the dirt road.
The dirt road was long leading to the farm. I spent so many summers there. My heart ached so badly when we reached that road. That dirt road led to where my dad would be put to rest. It would be on the hilltop where he wished to be put. There were to many miles between for us to linger there daily. Maybe that was his plan. Perhaps he wanted to prevent us from living the rest of our lives over his headstone. We buried him in March of 1996.
The soldiers stood there with the rifles on their shoulders. The cars wrapped around where my dads body lay. A casket of silvery gray if I remember correctly.
The car comes to a stop. I sit there for a few moments not sure if I was going to be able to take the walk to the casket. All you could hear was the weeps from family members as I opened the car door. I step out slowly. My entire body shook and the tears flowed so freely down my cheeks. I closed the car door slowly. I placed my hands on the roof above the door and rested my head on my arms. I thought about the walk to the casket in those few moments. I knew it was not going to be easy.
I stepped away from the car and turned to face the casket just ahead. Each step I took it felt like I was going to pass out. My body was still shivering as I walked towards my mom sitting in front of my dad lying there. I shivered but I could not feel the cold. I actually felt very warm. I guess your body warms up when you are faced with such a distressful event like burying your dad.
I sat down beside my mom. My dad’s sister was on my other side. My brothers were standing behind us sitting there in front of dad. The casket was closed but my mom demanded that it be opened during the service. I remember her crawling up to my dad and clinching onto the suit he wore. My brothers brought her back to her seat beside me. I stared at him lying there and the only thing I could hear was the heavy breathing, the weeps and moans that surrounded me. I remember looking over my shoulder to my oldest brother who tried his hardest to comfort mom. Seeing the tears swell up in his blue eyes made this even more unbearable.
I couldn’t tell you the words that fell from the preacher’s mouth. I couldn’t tell you every member that stood there with us mourning. I couldn’t even tell you what I wore that dreadful day. Many people surrounded me that day but I felt a loneliness that could have unsettled the entire world. It was the hardest day of my life and I don’t see too many ahead of me that can top the day I had to bury my dad. For years I could not remember my dad was buried in a gray suit.
My dad had no hair at death. The chemotherapy he had to endure prevented him from having it grow back. He looked so peaceful though lying there. They put on the tie I bought for him the Christmas before. While I looked upon his body lay there lifeless with a peace surrounding him I would picture him before the cancer. I would play out past memories that I shared with him growing up. Those memories might have been the only reason I was able to sustain burying him that day.
It was ending and they had to close up the coffin. My brothers and I held mom back while they closed him up. She tried so hard to reach him once more. Suddenly I hear shots from the soldiers who stood behind us all in the cemetery. It was a salute to my dad for serving his country during Vietnam. I couldn’t even tell you how many shots rang out. Some of the things that day are so cloudy and distant I can’t be absolute. For a stranger that would have been on looking the service was over. For my family and I it was far from over.
The crowd separated and people returned to their cars. I couldn’t stand to my feet. My legs were so weak I had to be held while we walked back to my car. I was grief stricken. I finally reach the car and sit down in the passenger seat. I had not closed the door yet and my brother Jeff walked up and handed me shell casings. The shell casings from the shots fired by the soldiers there. I clinched them in my hands so tightly they left indents on the palm of my hand.
The cars began to move as people left the cemetery. We drove by my dad’s final resting place and I just stared out the window at where he would be for eternity. I have only been to his resting place once in the eleven years he has been gone. That must have been his plan. To be placed next to his family in that small cemetery far enough away from us that we would not waste our days grieving over his death bed. Certainly if he was more accessible to me I’d be there everyday. He must have known.
I go over the burial day frequently. I do so in order to guarantee I remember him. I replay many memories for the same reason. I refuse to forget…