"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In Honor of Life: Memorial Day 2011

Old Woman in Cemetery

In Honor of Life

by CJ Heck

It was Memorial Day and as she did every year, Lidia Cleary drove to Eternity Acres Cemetery with three of the nicest spring bouquets she could find.   She took very seriously what she called, "My private time to grieve for those I've lost to war."  It was her way to honor them and show how much she cared. 

One bouquet was for Great-Grampa, Mack "PJ" Mullerton, who died during the first world war.  

The second was for Uncle Theo Tarns. He was killed when his plane was shot down in the second great war.  She had never met Uncle Theo, but she was still fiercely proud of him and, as with great-grampa, forever indebted to him for his service.  

The last bouquet was always the most difficult.  She always made sure it was the largest, most colorful of the three.  This bouquet had to be special, because it was for Daddy.

Lidia was only six when she hugged Steven Cleary's neck tightly for the last time at the airport in Stewartsville.  

She remembered crying and begging him to stay.  "Please don't go, Daddy.  I'll miss you and so will Mommy.  Please stay.  We need you."  She knew he was just as sad to leave them.  She saw him wipe his eyes when he turned to hug and kiss her mother.

Steven had been killed in Vietnam, a decorated infantry soldier, and a hero.  Her mother, Sarah, had eventually framed his medals and they hung on the wall beside his picture, over the fireplace.  

Lidia remembered how sad that time had been, after the family learned he had been killed.  But as sad as she had been, she had never felt so helpless, as hearing her mother sob into her pillow at night and not knowing how to comfort her. 

Lidia was so lost in her thoughts that she nearly missed Uncle Theo's grave.  She had to turn and walk back two rows and she chided herself for not paying more attention.  

Her prayers over, she finished talking to Uncle Theo.  Now it was time to find Daddy.  Her heart always felt like it was in her throat as she walked the steep path to the upper section where Daddy rested in the Cleary family plot.

Just as she was nearly at the top, she saw an elderly woman bending over one of the older headstones to the left of the walkway. Lidia stopped, hoping the woman wasn't about to topple over. She watched in silence as the woman tucked a folded paper under a vase of roses on the flat marble headstone and then adjusted a small American flag. 

As the woman stood, she suddenly turned and their eyes met. Lidia could almost feel the woman's thoughts when she saw the pain in her eyes. Then just as quickly, the moment was gone and the woman had turned away.

She watched as the frail woman walked slowly down the path towards the entrance gate. Lidia was stunned.  She could see she was crying, but she was also smiling. 

Lidia felt compelled to go over to the headstone and read whatever it was the woman had tucked under the vase.
"To my husband, my lover, my friend: I will always love you. I hope you like the roses. All my love forever, Your Maeve"
Lidia read the short note and, now crying herself, the words filled her with a new awareness. She could imagine the wheels of time turning the days and months to years, until suddenly, you realize, it's been a whole lifetime a loved one has been gone. 

Then one day, like a bucket with a hole, you see grief sifting slowly through, and instead of mourning their death, you begin to celebrate what they meant to you in life. 

Lidia closed her eyes and replaced the letter in its home under the vase of roses.  She quietly thanked the old woman as she placed the third bouquet on the headstone for Daddy. 

As Lidia thanked Steven Adam Cleary once more for being her father, she also remembered all of the love and the good times they had together. 

Now when Lidia cried, she could also smile -- and this time, they were tears of joy.

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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