A Birthday, a Funeral, and a 21 Gun Salute

In the frantic bustle of hurried packing the man turned to me, weeping, and said, “My dad’s dying.” Knowing there was nothing that could sufficiently comfort him in that moment, I simply acknowledged his words by whispering, “I know.”  We were supposed to celebrate his father’s 92nd birthday that afternoon.

We arrived as quickly as was manageable without risking a speeding violation.  The house was filled with family.  Children and grandchildren and great grandchildren were scattered, quietly waiting for the inevitable.  Birthday cupcakes sat on the counter, covering the surface in irony. As we filtered in the room we were warned of the mood upon entrance: sadness.
Breathing was labored and his father was unresponsive.  With assistance the man wheeled his chair to his father’s bedside and grabbed his hand. That morning’s revelation was filled with truth, his dad was dying. Without control, mourning swept through the room and the newcomers were teeming with new tears.  Everyone understood the significance of a tired son reaching out to his departing father.   
The afternoon had matured and grief was interrupted by prayers of peace and assurance.  Scripture was read and people spoke of a restored body, healed of all ailments. The man’s father was surrounded by all his children and many of his grandchildren in those final minutes; he was encouraged to join his bride in heaven.  On the day of his birthday party, the man’s father died an earthly death and was born into an eternal life. The symmetry was hard to ignore.   
Several days later, we gathered together once more to celebrate the patriarch’s life.  Grief had subsided and the family was renewed with certainty- they too would meet their Father in heaven one day.  Memories were shared and we sang songs of gladly bearing burdens and singing souls.
At the end of the service the pallbearers paused before reaching the doorway of the church.  Two sailors in uniform stood before them at attention.  We watched and listened as the man’s father was honored by a 21 gun salute and taps.  The flag, folded with precision and care, was presented to the man.  As one of the sailors knelt down to pay tribute, the man sat up in his wheelchair with dignity and accepted their gifts.
In the ensuing hours, tears dried and the church was emptied.  The man’s father was remembered with the breaking of bread and the fellowship that naturally followed.  The feelings that night were uncomplicated.  In the midst of a world in chaos, the family could rest knowing they belonged to a line of faithful, honorable, and loving men and women.  They were left with one charge…to continue the legacy.


In memory of Peter Cornelius Hamel, aka Grandpa Cor.