Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Private Memorial Day

One of the great things about living where I do, is its connection with my past. I was raised a nomadic Air Force brat. There was a home base, though, and it happens to be the house next door to mine. The house my mother was raised in; the house where my grandma still putters around making things bloom. It also is just a two block walk to the cemetery where my 'people' are buried; my grandpa, three cousins and my sister. Just before Memorial day, is the anniversary of her death. I don't always make the walk on that day, but it never goes by without some contemplation.

This year I was more aware than usual of the day approaching. It was going to be on a Sunday, just like the year she died. Saturday evening I slipped away by myself to the cemetery while the rest of the family played. As I walked, I was immersed in memories, flashes of feeling and snapshots from that time. Twenty two years ago is forever. How can it have been that long?

My feet crunched on gravel, and I remembered the shock of hearing that Sara was sick; my naive assurance that everything would be fine. (Isn't everything always going to be okay until it's not?) Those ten days of uncertainty, prayers, tests and overheard conversations with unfamiliar words like: tumor, malignant, stage 4, chemotherapy. I remembered the awkward visit to the university hospital. What was that tube in her wrist, with the halved Styrofoam cup keeping her hand level? We hadn't seen her since the day we found out she was sick. How different would my goodbye have been if I'd known it was the last time I would see her until her funeral?

I found her grave, and sat on the cool grass. I have no memory of being there on the day she was buried. I do remember the surreal feeling of excitement for my first ride in a limo, my abstract curiosity at the viewing; the alternating sensations that she was just on a trip and the crushing weight of loss.

I didn't understand at the time, but in the intervening decades this event has begun to make sense. I see the pattern that was still being woven back then. Sara took one for the team. Her death was the making of me, probably of all of our family. In taking her early exit, and I do believe that was part of her mission, she put the steel in my spine that gets me through hard times today. It cemented my own, personal faith.

I talked to her as I plucked the grass. I wondered aloud what her days are filled with. (Are there days in heaven?) I tried to imagine her grown, but I couldn't. She remains in my mind a newly-five blond pixie with mischievous eyes and a crinkly nose.

I asked her if she's okay. I know she is, everyone in heaven is, but it would have been nice to really FEEL it right then. I collected myself and stood to leave. I took one last glance at her grave and caught my breath. There, peeking up at me from the rose bush beside her marker, was a single pink bloom. Just one.
I picked it, and brought it to my nose. Sweet, but peppery too. Just like Sara. I walked home with a smile on my face, knowing she's just fine.