The family arrived in Spokane on Thursday. The rain that day matched our mood, for we had gathered to mourn the passing of our family patriarch: husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, father-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, friend. The service on Friday was solemn. The American flag was carefully folded and presented to my sister. Three veterans formed a rifle squad and fired a ceremonial 9 gun salute. Taps was played by a grandson and the mournful notes reminded us of the words, “Day is done, gone the sun … all is well, safely rest, God is nigh.” My daughter, a Presbyterian minister, delivered a beautiful eulogy. With sadness, we bade goodbye to our family patriarch, my sister’s husband.
The family gathered at her home that afternoon. We shared food and memories. We laughed together and cried together. A recording of my sister’s wedding song of almost 66 years before was played, “Always … I’ll be loving you always.” It was a time of grace and peace, a time of love, a time of healing.
The family was mostly gone by Monday, only my niece and her family remained. Late in the morning we gathered in my sister’s family room. The mood was quiet, the conversation subdued. At one point, almost everyone was engaged with their electronic gadgets, texting, emailing, surfing the web, playing games. It was as though the intense interaction of the past few days was too much, we needed a respite, a withdrawal into solitude. My 4 year old great-grandniece happily showed me how to play a game on her grandmother’s iPhone, some game about birds and pigs which I did not quite understand. She was the 4 year old expert, I the 73 year old novice. For lunch we adjourned to the deck overlooking the backyard. At one point I looked over at my sister, sitting in a rocking chair, and wondered what she was feeling. Was she feeling sadness at the passing of her husband of so many years? Was she feeling happiness at the sight of the family that the two of them had started and nurtured? Or, was it some mixture of the two? As for me, I felt peaceful and warm inside. It was a warmth that came not from the sun, but from my presence with this loving family. I felt like a small child that had been returned to his family after getting lost in a department store: warm, safe, loved. I hoped my sister felt the same way.
Then, it was time for me to leave and catch my flight back to San Francisco. I rose and hugged everyone except for the 4 year old. She and I merely exchanged “high fives.” My bags were packed and I asked for help in carrying them out to my rental car. My sister came with me and I gave her one last hug and said something, I don’t remember exactly what, but I hope it was “I love you.” I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay. As I pulled away I saw her standing on the lawn, alone. We waved goodbye. I had trouble seeing the road. She went back inside to be with her family.