Friday, November 14, 2014

The images of a farewell

Today marks 1 year since the passing of my Grandfather. This was written shortly after returning from my trip home for the funeral.
The service was beautiful. Heartbreaking and beautiful. And so fitting.

The oldest son, a pastor, honoring his father and holding the weight of the large family upon himself. The grief was etched in his face but he kept the strength. Only from God and the love of us all was he able to sing so purely "It Is Well" while sniffles and sobs escaped from the rows behind me. My Uncle's appearance has always been one of warmth and cheer with his rosy cheeks, full beard, and sturdy frame... but I can see he is weary. I don't envy what he has to do.

The oldest sister, widowed and orphaned, stands with pride. In any uncertainty on what to do we all look to her for the example. Stand. Clap. Sing. It's okay to cry.

The youngest son, also a pastor, takes to the pulpit to share family memories and stories. He's always been easy-going and a bit of a goofball. It's good to see him in this role of responsibility. This is very hard for him. We laugh. We cry. There was so much to say about such an amazing man who lived a long life.

And he did live! Although his life may not seem like much to others, he was something special. 86 years old when he breathed his last. Served his country during World War II, returned home to finish his school and later marry his love. Living on their quiet hillside they were married for 50 years before she left to be with the Lord. Raised 10 children and was the grandfather to 36 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. A hard-working man. A man of wisdom and insight. And most importantly, a stalwart man of faith.

Something to be shared with everyone: He is not in heaven because he was a good man. He is not in heaven because he loved his family. He is in heaven because he loved and accepted his Lord, who offered grace to us by dying on the cross; Christ's blood forever covering our sins.

Be sure no one leaves this place without knowing the name of Jesus!

We line through to see him one final time before the lid closes. He looks good. He seems at peace. Oh, how I'm going to miss him!

Off to the cemetery. We've really run late but the honor guard is still there. We carefully traipse along the spongy, soft earth and are actually granted a reprieve from the ever constant Pacific Northwest drizzle though the gray overcast stays.

We smile in our grief. We are all sad, but there is joy. The oldest sons of his children bring him to his plot. Next to his wife.

He is committed to the ground.

The bugle plays. Those 24 notes bring lumps to the throats of all who can hear...

And we watch as Old Glory is folded and ceremoniously presented to the oldest, "Oh behalf of a grateful nation..."

I watch as my uncle's shoulders shake and his body, racked with sobs, is held in check. Three of the sisters sit beside him, a few more behind him, all portraying the unimaginable grief that comes when you find yourself an orphan... no matter what age.

The grandkids and great grandkids partake in what has become a family tradition -- a balloon release. Everyone is represented. We watch as the blue balloons drift up and quickly float away through the large evergreen trees which surround this peaceful place.

"Take these images in!" I tell myself. "Don't forget what you see here - the dreary weather, the soft ground, those flowers left atop the casket. He's here but not here. Say goodbye! Notice the love of the family. They are here, together, and will reach out for any one of us if we need it."

Once again at the church. There is laughter and a sense of relief. It is over. We will miss him but he was tired and he was ready to go. There is also an emptiness -- the Patriarch of our family is gone... who will hold us together? When will we all get together again?

Family photos are a must, now! More laughter. As rarely as we all gather this seems practiced.

just the grandkids and great grandkids
the family: children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and the spouses (and we're still missing a few people)
the 10 children

Family members begin to trickle away. The crowd starts to dwindle, and before I can realize what is happening-- everything is finished... and I'm left to process my own emotions and memories of what has just happened.

And I find peace in my soul.

*** Thanks to several family members for their photos used in this post.

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