Thursday, March 28, 2013

3/28/2013 The Final Salute

(Wilmington, DE)

Another day dawned with both mom and I rising from a nights sleep tired.  We slept better than we had been but this week has just been so hectic, stressful and emotionally draining that a good nights sleep just simply eludes us.

Showered, dressed, breakfast out of the way, it was time to go to the funeral home.  I’ve been dreading this day in the worst way.  Even though it was only a five minute walk to the funeral home we still drove.

We arrived just ten minutes later because we made a stop at the local convenience store first.  Billy and Michelle were already there, waiting for us.

I knew this would be hard, walking into the room where the services would be.  It was my dad’s wish to be cremated so it was decided to have visitation, service and burial all in one day.

We brought with us five photo boards, two trophies, a silver cup he won in a pistol match and his dog tags.  We got busy with the help of the funeral home director setting the boards on easels, displaying the trophies on a small table and he took care of draping the dog tags over the urn.

We were done with the setting up the photo boards, pictures of my dad from his teens to this past Christmas.  Vacation pictures, family gatherings, pictures of him in uniform at pistol and rifle matches, the day he swore me in to his beloved Delaware National Guard.  His life in pictures, spanning sixty five or so years.

Since my dad was a military man through and through we picked out an urn that was just so fitting.  The mahogany box had a panel attached to the front of it that was covered in the dark blue material that Army soldiers dress blue uniforms are made of.  Across the bottom was a red ribbon with the gold braid.  At the top, centered, was the emblem of the United States Army.  His dog tags draped over.  We had asked flowers be omitted so there were vases of roses and fresh seasonal flowers from us and cousins.

Up until this point I knew my dad had died but until I stood before his urn it didn’t seem real.  Now reality was tapping me on the shoulder.  I put it that way rather than reality smacking me in the face because I am, for all intents and purposes, numb.

People started coming for the visitation period.  Lots of people came.  Men and women my dad worked with through the years, extended family, family friends, Billy’s friends, friends of mine and some friends that traveled considerable distances to show us their support and to pay their respect.

Being a Guard member myself and also working for the Guard full time, just like my dad, I knew a lot of his co-workers, people I hadn’t seen in years.  Even though my dad retired just over thirty years ago his co-workers, now retired themselves, still came.  I think what I’ve heard over and over again through the years finally proved itself true, The Guard is family.

I think the most heart wrenching thing to watch at the funeral home was the gesture of the utmost respect.  The Adjutant General of the Delaware National Guard attended the services.  He attends every service of a National Guardsman.  If that wasn’t the case I think he would have still been here today.  He’s known my dad since he was a little boy.  His dad, a Guardsman too, would often bring him to the Armory for one reason or another.  His parents and mine were friends socially and we would go their house when I was just a little girl on a Saturday nights to play cards.  He is, in fact, a lifelong friend.
We watched, as the General, stood in front of the urn and gave a perfect, very slowly executed, salute.  It just tore at my heart to see that, but I never felt so proud at the same time.

Visitation over, it was time for the service by our Pastor.  Our pastor is new to our church, transplanted from North Carolina just six months ago.  I loved hearing him say “Bill” as he talked about my dad.  It came out Beel.  He said all the right words, comforting words, yet ones that drove home the fact that life was going to be very different for the Rhoads family now.

Service over we went out to the cars already lined up with the orange funeral procession placards hanging from the rearview mirrors.

It took us about a half hour to make the drive from the neighborhood funeral home to the Delaware Veteran’s Cemetery.  Our procession was quite long but funeral home people did an outstanding job blocking traffic at intersections so that our procession could stay together.

After everyone got parked we stood at the front of the chapel and the the funeral director called Billy and me to the back of the hearse.  While he was talking quietly to us the honor guard assembled along both sides of the walkway to the building.  They stood there in their dress uniforms, at parade rest with their rifles.

Bill, the funeral director, handed me the flag, folded in that all too familiar triangle.  He handed my brother our dad’s urn.  Together Billy and I led everyone into the chapel, through the honor guard that now stood at attention.

I clutched that flag to my chest, and as I write this, I don’t know how I ever made it inside.  It’s a wonder I didn’t trip somehow because everything was a blur due to the tears that filled my eyes.  This, our final walk together.

Reluctantly, I handed the flag over so that it could be put on the display stand for the service.  Pastor Scott stood at the front and brief service began.  Finished, he stood aside and we knew what was coming next.  We all braced ourselves as we listened for the twenty one gun salute and those mournful notes of Taps.  I felt my mom stiffen in her seat and I understood her reaction completely.

The detail unfolded the flag and re-folded it and with great precision and very kind words presented it to my mother.

It just gets harder and harder.

Afterwards we invited everyone to the Elks Lodge for a luncheon.  My nephew Dusty and a friend of his prepared a wonderful feast for us all.  We talked, we reminisced with our guests, we ate, we laughed and one by one they took their leave.

This day was over.  It was time for us to continue on in our new normal.  I hate this new normal.

I miss my dad.  Very. Much.


Anonymous said...

I have wept with each installment as you so eloquently and respectly describe those long days for you and your family. My heartfelt thoughts are with you all at the very difficult time.
Thank you for sharing.
ann decatur

michael ultra said...

So sorry for your loss. I have sent prayers your way.