Friday, February 16, 2018

Two Final Words - A Lifetime of Meaning

It was a bitterly cold afternoon, the kind of cold that is unforgettable and unforgiving.  The sun was out but did nothing to ease the onslaught of bitter arctic air that had descended on the city for several days.  Our steps were audible as we crunched through the fallen snow and up the small incline to the gravesite.  

We clustered in a small circle, perhaps 20 of us altogether.  A gathering beneath a small tree on a gentle slope in the snow at the end of a life.  Granddad had chosen this location beneath the tree.  He liked it here.  Eighty-eight years faithfully lived by the family patriarch, working, loving, teaching us all by his quiet, humble and grateful example.  This was a very good man.

A small gold cross on the casket was removed and presented to the widow.  Yellow roses were handed out, and then in turn quietly placed on the casket by those standing by.  No sounds now, just the soft and cold wind swirling around.

As daughter Nancy, my wife, placed her rose, she broke the cold silence with two words that had been said likely countless times over the span of her life. 

Words yelled as a little girl, as she ran out the door to play at the neighbors' house.  Words spoken as she borrowed the car keys and headed out the door in high school, and then said perhaps with tears, as she boarded a plane to her new life in Los Angeles when she left home, after college. These same words were said with love, at the end of countless phone calls from far away in California.  Two words, offered many times at the end of visits home to Toronto in the intervening 30 years of marriage and raising a family - words often shouted out the car window, headed to the airport, packed with luggage and children and spouse.

But now, under the cold winter sun, those same words seemed far less routine and far more final.  Words spoken into the frigid air with a faint sense of ending and yet a subtle hint of a new beginning; 

"Bye Dad"  

I'll never forget that cold hillside, that bright sun, those with whom we stood.  I will never forget that man.  Cliff, my father-in-law.  Steadfast, caring, quiet, full of love for family, humble, grateful.  

Most of all, I'll never forget those two words and the depth of mystery they contain.  
The span of a man's life, condensed into moments of thankful remembering.  

Warm summer sun, shine brightly here,
Warm southern wind, blow softly here,
Green sod above, lie light, lie light,
Good night, dear heart; good night, good night.

Good Night, Dear Heart by Dan Forrest (b. 1978)

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