Saturday, December 18, 2004
Until then it had always been six
I got out of the car and looked around as my eyes adjusted from the tinted car interior to the bright outside sunlight. I saw what I was looking for - five chairs set up on the grass, about 50 feet away. Then I looked further to the horizons. It was a fine early September day in western Minnesota. It was actually cool for the week after Labor Day, and a bit breezy, but the sun was shining brightly amid a few broken clouds. The nearby fields and trees had the dark green hue of late summer on the northern prairies, when the foliage is still robust but autumn is just starting to gain.
A row of trees a couple of miles away marked the near shore of a lake. I thought to myself, “Fifty years ago today he might have been fishing on that lake.” When he was in his 30’s, this was the type of late summer day on which he might have headed out in the evening to fish for a couple of hours after work. Just as the trees in late summer work harder to store a bit more energy ahead of the coming winter, so Dad tried to get in a bit more fishing before he stowed his pole and tackle box for the winter. It was a rhythm he probably learned from trees; he loved them, too.
Mom got out of the car and grabbed my right arm with her left hand. She clasped my hand, and then buried her head in my shoulder. My older brother came around on her right side. My two sisters came alongside us, and the five of us walked together to the five chairs, following the pallbearers and the minister.
Five chairs. Until then it had always been six.
I only half-listened to the graveside service. Instead I continued sorting through events of the last several months. I was glad we were saying our goodbyes, and that the end had come as it did.
Dad really left us a few years earlier. Dementia had been carving away pieces of his soul for five or more years, leaving him less than a shadow’s shadow of what he had been. Then dementia claimed that remnant as well. We all missed him, but none of us wanted him back as he was at the end. So it was time to go; actually, it was a good time to go.
I also thought about the funeral. Dad loved hymns and sacred songs, so we included his favorites in the funeral service. The five of us had looked through a couple of hymnals from his personal library page by page, as we shared memories triggered by the songs. We remembered, and he was with us again. Though Dad’s body was finished, he remained with us yet.
So, as I sat in front of the grave, I felt peaceful. I realized this was a time of joy for Dad’s life, not of sadness at his passing. This was a time to recognize the richness and grace he gifted me. This was a time to appreciate his love and his life.
Tears do burnish our joys; I squint at my monitor even as I type these words because something keeps getting in my eyes. I am glad for the treasures he gave us while he was alive. I am glad that he was not snatched from us prematurely. And I am glad that the agonizing denouement ended gracefully
These memories returned when Edgar announced his retirement during last season. Mariners fandom was filled with sorrow and regrets that Edgar’s time was coming to a close.
But I thought back to that sunny day in western Minnesota in September 1998. I considered the wonderful memories and joys Edgar gave us. I enjoyed the special bonds that developed between Edgar and Mariners fans. I was glad that he was leaving when it was time to leave, that he wasn’t yanked from us too early, and that we will be spared watching a shadow Edgar wearing #11.
It was good times, Gar. Thanks for the memories, and with those memories you will always be a Mariner – Mr. Mariner.