Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Day He Said Goodbye

It was a moment, really, endless moments, that I couldn't have prepared myself for. I recognized my own grief and what the day would mean for myself as I said goodbye to my daddy and set him free but being in Thomas' presence as he said his own goodbye was life altering and I was deeply honored to have been his mom and to have been there for him in this most personal and private goodbye.

The day began early with my mom, Dan (my husband) and myself, waking at dawn to a beautiful day that greeted us with sunshine filtering through scrub pine forests, the smell of the trees all around, the babbling of the creek that ran past our cabin and the dew on the grass as Dan and I walked through it to meet my mom at her cabin. The plan was to go ahead of everyone that day and scout out a beautiful and private place along the river to say goodbye to my daddy.

We drove through the early morning light along a dirt road and parked at the fish hatchery that would serve as our trailhead to the private, almost holy place that we would gather at as a family and say our last goodbyes. We walked down the trail and within minutes my mom found the place that she felt my daddy would have been happy to be his final resting place and we three stood there in silence, tears rolling down my face and my mom's, and we gazed out at the river, so ice blue, wild and so representative of my daddy and his life and the work he did through much of it. You see, he worked for the USGS and his job was to measure rivers to determine their flow rate, their depth and a myriad other things I didn't understand. He had spent years wading into wild waters, high in the mountains of the western United States, loving the solace he found in his job because he was always alone with nature. It was there he spent his life and it would be there, at his request, that he would spend eternity.

My mom, Dan and myself returned to camp and we gathered for a big family breakfast with us three and my sister, her husband, and seven of her children. As we ate we talked about my daddy and we prepared for what was ahead of us that morning.

By mid morning we were all finally gathered together in the holy place we had found for my daddy. The hike in had been somber as my mom carried my daddy's ashes in his favorite backpack he had worn most of his life to hike in the mountains and as we all looked down the trail to the place where we would say goodbye. My nephew Faisal, an amazing photographer and videographer, quietly and reverently moved among the family making a memory of the ceremony in photography that we would all have for the rest of our lives. Then the time came to say goodbye and we gathered together as my mom removed my daddy's urn from his backpack and opened it for the final time, tears of grief rolling down her face and choking her speech.

She began with the little ones, the children my daddy had barely known, and she handed them each a small cup of ashes and told them about their grandpa and they walked to the river and released him in to the water at the edges of the bank. I turned to Thomas and looked at him and he stood there completely consumed with emotion. Tears rolled down his face and he struggled to wipe his running nose. I went and got him a Kleenex and handed it to him and I reached out to him and hugged him. We clung to each other tightly as I whispered to him,

"It's okay kiddo, it's okay."

It then became his turn to take a cup of ashes and say his last goodbye. He stood over the urn as my mom scooped some ashes out and quiet tears ran down his cheeks. He carefully took the ashes and turned toward the wild, rushing water and walked to the edge of the bank. He stood for a moment saying something I couldn't hear over the roar of the rapids and he leaned out over the water and threw his beloved grandpa's ashes out into the water. He walked back to me and reached out for me in a desperate, emotion-filled need to be comforted and again I found myself holding my very emotional, normally stoic young man in my arms as he sobbed. Saying goodbye to his grandpa had touched him much deeper than I could ever have imagined. I was honored to be with him in these moments and to comfort him in what had now become the most intense, life-altering moment of his life.

Then it became my turn to take a cup of my dad's ashes to the edge of the water. I cried during the short walk to the edge and I stood there and looked out over the beautiful water and around at the magnificent, fragrant trees and I took this moment with nature to remember my dad. All of the things I wanted to say at this moment escaped me so I shouted into the sound of the water's rapids,

"I LOVE YOU DADDY! I MISS YOU."

and then quietly I said,

"Goodbye daddy."

and then I released my cup of my daddy's ashes with all of my might into the morning breeze and into the river.

There it was, the final goodbye to my daddy's remains. I knew with all of my heart we had done exactly what he had wanted and I was honored to have been able to be a part of his final wishes but now...he was gone.

Then came time to do our readings. Thomas took his drawing he had done for his grandpa and he stood there not sure what to do. I asked him if he wanted to read his message to his grandpa out loud to the family and understandably he didn't so I told him he should go to the river and read the message to his grandpa and then let the drawing go into the river. Again he walked to the water's edge and quietly, drowned out by the sound of the rapids, he read his final letter to his grandpa. He bent down and gently released the drawing into the river and I walked up to him and again held him tightly both of us wracked with grief.

I had also had a small memorial plaque made, engraved with my daddy's name, his birth and death date and the words,

"At peace and forever one with the river wild."

Thomas and I stood together in a quiet moment shared between us and we stared down at the plaque in my hand.

"What do you think we should do with it kiddo?"

I asked him.

"Should we just set it over there on the river's edge?"

I could just tell he didn't think that was right so I asked him,

"What do you think we should do?"

He wanted to fling it out into the middle of the river but that didn't feel quite right to me so together we compromised, he carried it down to the water's edge and then together we set it on the surface of the water, released it and watched as it sank to the bottom, immortalizing my daddy, his grandpa, in this river, forever.

With everyone now having said their goodbyes, we hiked back up the trail, tears rolling down our faces but with a certain joyful chatter amongst each other about what we had just done in honoring our patriarch. As we emerged onto the gravel road we walked out to the middle of the bridge and looked over the side at the roaring waters below, my daddy's final resting place. Then we gathered together on the bridge as a family and we took a portrait of the family we had now become with my daddy's spirit all around us.

In the end, what had mattered most to me apart from honoring my daddy's last wishes, were the many moments I found myself holding my son, comforting him as he grieved a most heartfelt deep loss, and standing beside him at the river's edge as he and I together released the plaque, my daddy's memory set in stone, into the water at the river's edge. In those quiet moments, in our private mom and son world, we found each other in a way neither of us knew existed in the other. That day, July 9th, 2014, I said goodbye to my daddy and Thomas said goodbye to his beloved grandpa but in that goodbye my daddy left Thomas and I a gift, a world where we knew just he and I existed together alone and would forevermore. A world where come what may, whatever was thrown our direction with this illness schizophrenia, we would be able to handle it together.

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