Friday, November 26, 2010

Laying Dad to Rest

Friday November 26, 2010

Today we did one of the hardest things I have ever done; we laid my father to rest in Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill.

Fittingly I suppose, it was a cold and dreary day, with a threat of morning rain which thankfully never materialized. Amparo, our girls and I arrived at the chapel on the grounds of the cemetery a little bit after 11:00 am, and joined the rest of the family in remembering Dad and preparing for the day to come. The public viewing was scheduled for noon, followed by a service in the chapel at 1:00 pm, with interment to follow.

The chapel was starkly beautiful in its simple elegance. Dad, as a combat veteran of World War II, was entitled to full military honors, and the first of many times today that I lost my composure was entering the chapel and seeing his flag-draped coffin. As I write this two weeks to the day after the fact, the tears are streaming down my face as I look at the picture and remember the strange mix of anguish and pride I felt on seeing that sight. I am humbled at the thought of a time when a 17 year old boy would lie about his age to enlist in the army and go to fight in a war half a world away because he, and everyone else, had no doubt that it was the necessary and right thing to do.

The viewing seems somewhat surreal to me, and I have few concrete memories of it, other than gratitude to the people who came to pay their respects.

At some point, the viewing turned into a memorial service, but once again I am a bit fuzzy on the details of how and when that happened. As a part of the service, Dave, myself, and our friend John (our other brother) were all going to say a few words. I had agonized over what to say, writing and rewriting, and worried about how I would get through it. Sitting in the front pew, I was pretty sure that I would be able to get through my remarks with some semblance of composure. I was wrong. Dave had shared the draft of his remarks with me, so I knew what he was going to say, which was a very nice overview of Dad's life. As I sat there listening to his words, the weight of the moment collapsed on me. When my time came to take the podium, I had a hard time even beginning. I ended up completely losing my composure on numerous occasions, and only managed to hit a few of the highlights of what I had written, skipping much of it. I wish I could have gotten through it better. Nobody got to hear what I intended to say, although family would get to read it afterwards.

After attempting to speak, I'm not sure I remember much of anything of the rest of the service other than the moving and heartfelt words that John spoke. Thank you, my friend.

As I have mentioned, Dad was a veteran and as such was entitled to military honors. I wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but in discussing preparations with the funeral director, she had mentioned that she had put in a request to the local veterans organization to see if someone could come out to the grave site on that day. Knowing that the funeral was to be on the Friday after Thanksgiving, she wasn't sure whether anyone would be able to come, but she would hope for the best.

As a military history buff, I think perhaps I may have more of an appreciation for the pomp and ceremony attending military ritual than most people. But I can honestly say that nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when we arrived at my father's graveside. Despite the cold blustery Friday on a holiday weekend, local veteran volunteers had turned out to provide a 7 man honor guard, a bugler to play taps, and 3 other men to perform the flag-folding ceremony and recite the poem "In Flanders Fields". There were a few moments available before it was time to carry Dad's casket to the grave, and I was so moved by the presence of these aging veterans (many seeming to be near Dad's age themselves) that I walked down the line of them, one by one, mumbling my thanks for their presence. I cannot describe the pride I felt when each and every one of them replied with the same simple comment: "It's our honor". I can barely type through the tears...

I remember carrying Dad's casket to his grave. Dave, me, Chris, Ryan, John and Ted. Six men who I think, and hope, would have made him proud to carry him to his final rest. I remember thinking how heavy the casket was for a man who had wasted away to nothing. I remember the veterans performing the flag-folding ceremony and presenting the folded flag to Mom. I remember 7 veterans firing 3 times each for a 21 gun salute. I remember completely losing it at that point. I remember one veteran collecting the spent shell casings from the 21 gun salute and tucking 3 of them into the folded flag. I remember taps. I remember a veteran reciting "In Flanders Fields". I remember feeling everything... and nothing.

"On behalf of a grateful nation..."

"...honoring our deceased comrade Fred B. Lyons..."

There are no words...

1 comment:

  1. Dear Eric,
    This is so beautifully and lovingly written, even I have tears in my eyes.
    I am sorry for your loss.
    Lori's friend,