Sitting Shiva… Bulldogs and Bullet Shells

So, I led my dad’s funeral service… again.

If one time wasn’t hard enough, I did it twice. This time, however, I wasn’t alone. The flesh that had housed my father for over 60 years was nestled in the corner… in a box… that has become his final resting place. He laid there void of soul… yet, I sought to bring him back to life.

With words, I sought to speak his soul back into existence. With my voice, I tried to create his presence one last time…

I don’t know if anyone else felt that… but I did. I felt him there. Not the man in the corner, but the spirit in our hearts and the memories in our minds. He was there with us. He was there.

The funeral director was a blessing… quirky and kind. He did everything he could to give us all that we needed to make the ceremony perfect… but couldn’t deliver when it came to technology. I looked at him and said… 

“So, what kind of technology do you have.”

He looked confidently back into my eyes and said, “We have a CD player.”

Long awkward pause as I looked at him… No, I was looking through him.

He smiled. 

“Uh… yeah. What else? Do you have a TV?”

“Nope. We have a CD player.”

The 21st century just collided with the 20th century and I remembered that I was back in Ohio. 

Needless to say, I went shopping. After purchasing cords and a projector and some speakers… we were ready to go.

The day of the service came and there is nothing that I have ever HAD to do that I looked forward to LESS than this. I dragged my feet… I took an extra long shower… I buttoned my shirt slowly… I finally fell in the car seat and made the drive. As I pull into the parking lot, I see that people are waiting for me.

I am nearly 40 minutes early and people are waiting for me. 

I get out of the car and say “Hello”. I grabbed my bags and turn towards the funeral home. The door opens and my quirky friend’s assistant is there to greet me. I walk in the foyer and look at the closed door that leads to the actual room.

I look at the door again. It’s closed. I want it to stay closed. I want to turn and run away. But… I don’t. 

He opens the door. I know what is waiting for me on the other side of the door. I move through the opening and speak in a hushed tone. 

“Don’t let anyone else in until I say so.” 

“Of course.” He closes the door behind my family and I while he stands like a British soldier guarding the Palace. 

I look at the corner. There he is. Open casket. Flowers perched on his bottom half… hands tucked beneath covers… mouth wired shut – flat and emotionless. Just like how I thought I should feel… but, I didn’t feel that way. I look to my son. 

“You ready?”

We walk as a unit, my wife and son and I. We stand there staring down at the open box. I talk to my son about finality. I ask him how he is doing. My wife watches as a tear falls down her face. We stand there. I glance at the flowers and then over at the flag and then at my dad’s face. It is… was… his body. He has moved on. He wasn’t with me anymore and this box is not how I wanted to remember him… so my eyes dart. But, this box was part of the process… so we stood there and paid our final respects.

I look at the bulldog guard who is perched by the door. “It’s time”. I mouth it with a quick upward shake on my head. The doors open and people begin to come in. Fifteen minutes before the official viewing is open and people are already shuffling in.

Some drove from Kentucky… others Tennessee… others from right down the street. There were cousins and brothers and friends and neighbors. There were young and old, but they were all impacted by my dad. We even had a Lieutenant Colonel from the Pentagon… (yeah… I didn’t see that one coming either). 

All in all… my dad touched a lot of people’s lives and they were going to take advantage of this moment to honor him. And… in honoring him, they truly honored me.

I spoke. We laughed. We cried. Friends and family shared their memories and stories and it was truly a time of healing. I was able to meet a man who saw my grandfather die and he recounted all the details with me. (If you want to know more, read this post). I heard about my grandpa… the hero.

With a flag laid over his coffin, myself and 5 other special men carried my dad’s body to the hearse. It was:

Herb Kenter (my dad’s best friend)

Chuck Kenter (a close family friend for many years)

Shawn Kenter (another close family friend for many years)

Roger Smith (my best friend growing up)

David Hintz (my dad’s brother)

At the gravesite, there were many people waiting for me. Dressed in uniforms with rifles shining… they waited for us. A long line of cars pulled into the graveyard and worked their way to the tent where we stood. I helped bring my dad’s body out of that hearse and we laid him down under the tent. I took a few steps back as the people gathered and I let the soldiers take over.

I can’t explain in words right now what this ceremony meant to me… but I may in a future post. Let me simply say that it was the most powerful and honoring thing that I have ever been a part of. They spoke. They gave him a 21 gun salute. They played taps. They folded his flag and placed it into my arms. The commander saluted me and I returned it. I was then given the bullet casings from the 21 gun salute. I cherish them as much as I do the flag.

Those bullet casings mean something. They were filled with something at one point. They were filled with energy and have accomplished their purpose on earth. They are but a shell today… but a shell that reminds me of the most powerful moment of my life. A reminder of something far deeper than the actual metal casing… a reminder of my hero. 

Life is sort of like that… isn’t it. Each of us will be a spent casing one day. Each of us  will have accomplished our purposes on this earth and we will be done. However, we would have given each person who was part of our life a memory… or a casing… to remember. These memories point back to the purpose of our lives and live on far longer than we do. 

I want to leave casings… like my dad did. I want to leave memories… like my dad did. I want to touch lives and be able to say that my purpose was accomplished. Not only in what was given in the moment, but in the casings that lay scattered on the floors of those that I know and love.

My life is littered with the casings of others. People, who even in this season of my life, have changed me. Those who have loved me. Those who have stepped up to help carry the burden in these long days. I simply want to thank you and ask you to keep pulling that trigger in my life and I will commit to pull the trigger in yours. Together… we can make an incredible difference and leave casings littering the floors of each other. 

Thank you for Sitting Shiva with me.

GP 

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