Great Grandpa

This pandemic may be called many things—scary, inconvenient, ill-timed, unprecedented. As a mom to two graduating daughters and two soccer-playing sons, the main word is aggravating. “Why now?” they ask. “Why did this stupid virus have to interrupt my final year of high school/senior prom/graduation party/mission trip/soccer season/out-of-town tournament/church camp?”

 

They’re pretty good kids, so after spending some time lamenting the loss of these events and milestones, they sit a little taller with a newly developed perspective. They’ve come to realize trips and parties, while fun, aren’t vital to our survival as a species. It’s an invaluable lesson about how the planets don’t revolve around them and their whims. And it’s a lesson we’re all learning every day as we strive to find better ways to appreciate our blessings and look out for each other like it’s our full time job.

 

I had one of those epiphanies last week when we attended the funeral of my husband’s 94-year old grandfather. We traveled a couple of hours to a funeral home where we knew the attendance would be low. The visitation was family-only, so 15 of us sat in the chapel and visited with mask-muffled voices, as Grandpa lay in his casket at the front of the room.

 

Eventually it was time for the graveside service, so we drove down the road to the cemetery where Grandma is also buried. On the drive, I told my husband how sad it was that more people weren’t there to pay their respects to this amazing World War 2 veteran. A radio operator on transport ships in the Pacific, he was so proud of the fact that he was on the ship next to the USS Missouri when the Japanese foreign minister signed the peace treaty to end the war. After the war and until his death, he lived in Oak Ridge, Tennessee where he worked at the National Lab. (Grandma also worked there as a Guardette tasked with, among other things, making sure everyone had left the building in case of an evacuation. Her time there and her exposure to uranium led to her battle with breast cancer.)

 

Grandpa traveled with bombs and parts of bombs. He was a genius at fixing things—weed-eaters, chain saws, telephones, watches. He was the one they called in to pull wire through buildings and set the locks on giant safes. These were my thoughts as we parked at the cemetery and saw car after car lined up beside us. People were standing around, mostly strangers to us who had gone to church with Grandpa, waiting for us to take our place under the canopy and sit in the folding chairs reserved for family.

 

Then we saw the two naval officers in their dress whites, standing at attention by Grandpa’s flag-draped casket. They were facing each other, as still as statues. As one of the men crisply spun around and stepped away from the group, I noticed he was holding a bugle. At a safe distance from the crowd, he removed his face mask and began to play Taps. Those sad and lonesome notes drifted above us as we looked forward in silence, tears trickling down the sides of my face before being absorbed by my mask. When the bugler returned to the canopy, he removed the flag and worked with the other officer to meticulously fold it into a perfect triangle. Then the other officer held the folded flag in front of my father-in-law and said, “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Navy and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.” Once the offered flag was taken, he snapped back and saluted with perfect solemnity and respect.

 

I had started the day with an unshakeable feeling of sadness that this aggravating virus would prevent a dear man from receiving the deference and appreciation that was due him, but, in the end, I was wrong. Like so much of these last few months, the essential was revealed and lessons were learned. Each of these days which fall under the heading of PANDEMIC CONTINUES will not end in the way I would choose, (because…why should life start being perfect now, anyway?) but when things do turn around and the clouds part and we get a little sunshine where we expected thunderstorms, it’s always worth mentioning.