Memorial Day. For many, the words conjure up a weekend to party, back yard barbecues and get togethers and marks nothing more significant than the brilliant start of the summer season. For me, and for my family and for millions of others, it is a more solemn occasion. It runs much deeper than red, white and blue table decorations, plastic cups and burgers and dogs. It is truly a day to honor the fallen, those who died while defending our nation.
I learned early to appreciate the significance of the day. My father served at Guadalcanal and, later, in Washington DC. He had a distinguished career in the Army Reserves. But Memorial Day, he reminded his children, is not for the living–it is for the dead. Those who left to serve and didn’t return. It affected my father deeply and, in turn, the solemnity of the occasion was made clear to us, his flock of nine offspring.
In a very timely visit, my sister Jan has been touring Yellowstone National Park this week. The park was one of the more spectacular venues my family visited on our 11,000-mile cross-country adventure in 1963. For me, seeing it when I was only six years old, Yellowstone left an indelible impression. I have also revisited the park in the past and hope to go again someday. For now, I will enjoy it through my sister’s recent pictures and this except from A Bridge Between which may help explain why both the park and my father hold a special place in my heart.
A Bridge Between(Original verse written 1967 October 22 by Carlo A. Pola. Notations by the 8th child.)
A word, a laugh, a tearIn those final hours, we gathered and chatted and smiled and cried.
A way back when
He was there for us, always,
A helping hand now and thenand as he’d cared for us, so did we for him.
An attentive ear to youth’s hopes and fearI spoke softly to him, stroked his hair and held his hand.
A father’s yes to a child’s requestNo questions left to answer, God’s will alone would rule.
It is just over 12 hours since my father has passed from this earth. It’s been a time full of phone calls and discussions held with family, friends and Facebook. The outpouring is overwhelming. When this time passes and his death is no longer immediate, I ask myself, what is it about him I will miss the most?
I’ll feel his loss a million ways, of course. I’ll miss that strong jaw, his practical manner and calm demeanor and, especially, the way we grew closer as his body grew weaker. I will see shadows of him everywhere, and every corner of my life will feel the void. But what I’ll miss most is the privilege of witnessing the love he showered upon my mother, a love incomparable. It was unmistakable, intangible, a force of nature: the way he looked at her, the way he loved her. But it was visible, as well, and evident to all who met them. It shone in the way they held hands, in a soft goodbye kiss or when they’d reach for one another in times of stress. I am so much the better for witnessing this love. I am a product of it. I will hold it in my heart forever and bask in its afterglow like a sunset well remembered.