Somebody’s dad died this week. Phil was 96, in poor health, and his death wasn’t unexpected. His wife of 65 years said he was ready, that he had seen angels in his hospital room. He was deeply faithful and his family is comforted by that.
It’s only in the past year that I’ve reconnected with his youngest son through Facebook, and it’s only through Facebook that I heard the news of his failing health. And then the death. Funeral arrangements were in my home town, and I made plans to attend. I couldn’t not attend.
He was the father of my best friend from junior high and high school, my college roommate, my peer in the business world after we graduated. My only contact with her parents for the past twenty-four years has been Christmas cards, each of us sending newsy letters about the previous year. And then last year I read that their youngest son’s wife had died unexpectedly and I wrote back asking for an address for him. And that lead to Facebook communication with him.
So I went to the funeral, introduced myself to the oldest daughter, hugged the wife and both sons. The person I most wanted to hug was my old best friend. But I couldn’t because she wasn’t there. You see, the last time I had seen any of these people was twenty-four years ago at Sallie’s funeral. She died from an aggressive leukemia when she was 36.
I can’t say that I still think of her every day. But I think about her a lot. And I was talking to her inside my head during the entire service for her dad. I was looking at her older sister and picturing Sallie as she might look at age sixty. Sixty! The age we both should be right now. But I can only remember her as she was at my wedding when we were both 34. Or how she was the last time I saw her a couple weeks before she died.
She would have liked to be turning sixty. Unlike me who is struggling a bit with that number, she would have embraced it, planned an adventure, charged right toward it. Her sister thanked me for coming to the funeral, ‘representing Sallie.’ I don’t think I was representing her so much as honoring her along with her dad. They were both fine human beings. I miss her. I know her siblings will be missing them both.
This family has been through a lot of loss, more than just this recent loss and the loss of their daughter and sister so long ago. But they are strong. Strong in their love for each other and strong in their belief that those in the family who have gone ahead are all together, and will greet each of them when their time comes.
At the cemetery an honor guard folded the flag that had draped the casket and gave it to Phil’s wife. I glanced up at the sky and saw the clouds forming a huge heart right above the tent. I’m pretty sure it was Sallie and her dad comforting us and letting us all know we are loved.
And then taps played and I began to cry all over again.