While I don't mean to over-post on my father's death I do want to write about his funeral. I feel like this is the final chapter in my journey of saying goodbye to him. I need to finish this chapter before I get back to life blogging about our vacation to Denmark (no I still haven't finished those posts!), and the NDSC convention and whatever else comes our way.
I have been a part of the military since the day I was born. My dad served 20 years in the Air Force and I knew a military funeral, steeped in tradition and ceremony, would be so very emotional. As if a funeral for your parent isn't emotional enough on it's own accord. I knew there would be an honor guard, a flag-draped coffin, the folding and presenting of the flag to the next of kin, the volley salute, and the playing of Taps.
I saw my father take his last breaths. I saw him in the casket at the viewing the day before the funeral. I was numb. It was, and really still is, surreal.
Seeing his flag-draped coffin being taken out of the hearse by the military honor guard somehow made it that more real.
Even though it was the same casket in front of me during the funeral service, when I saw it at the cemetery it hit me harder and I kept thinking, "That's my father. That's my father in that casket. This is really happening."
I wasn't prepared for those emotions. And I most certainly wasn't prepared for the emotions I felt when I glanced over at my brother. My brother, who was enlisted in the Air Force and then the Reserves, and who, a couple of years ago, commissioned in to the Army...my brother in his Army Dress Blues. He was standing on the path the honor guards were walking with the casket and he was saluting. (As was Joe, in his Air Force Service Dress). It wasn't that they did anything unusual, because of course they would be saluting a flag-draped coffin of a veteran; standing at attention and rendering respect and honor for the deceased. But this was my brother, and he was saluting our father's casket and it hurt my heart to see that, because I know that he was struggling with composure just as much as I was. The unbelievable-ness that we were burying our father much sooner than we ever thought we would be.
Each of the three shots made me cry harder than the last. Each of the shots made it more final. I wanted to scream out "no!" with each of the shots. I just wanted my father back.
When the playing of Taps started I thought my knees were going to buckle. I wanted nothing more than to crumble to the ground and sob until I had nothing left. I didn't want to be standing there, having my father honored with the playing of Taps. I wanted to be back at his house talking about the Red Sox. This description of Taps couldn't be more accurate, "There is something singularly beautiful and appropriate in the music of this wonderful call. Its strains are melancholy, yet full of rest and peace. Its echoes linger in the heart long after its tones have ceased to vibrate in the air.
- from an article by Master Sergeant Jari A Villanueva, USAF
I described the witnessing of a military funeral for one's own father as "poignantly beautiful, knee-buckling, and heart-breaking all at once."
May you rest in peace now Dad, your body free from the pain of cancer, and knowing that you gave it one helluva fight for nearly 3 years. Goodbye, Dad, I love you.