September 28, 2010

Storytelling: The Funeral of a Stranger

It's taken me a while to write this post because it involves my doing something pretty out of the ordinary - which turned into a learning experience for my oldest daughter. She was not  yet four.

On a beautiful, spring morning in March (you have to remember that March IS spring in AZ), we were on our way to go "thrifting" when we saw the overflow parking lot of a nearby church filled with several hundred motorcycles. It was an amazing sight. I turned into the parking lot so we could check them out safely and find out why they were there. We learned they were Patriot Guard members, an honor guard escorting the memorial procession of a motorcyclist who'd been killed in a brutal car accident  weeks earlier. While we were taking this all in - the call came to follow the funeral hearse. We watched quietly as the entire procession of motorcycles passed us. Then, the person in charge of the processional yelled at me and motioned for us to follow.

And, then, things got a bit out of the ordinary. Not wanting to be rude or explain, I just followed, thinking I would discretely pull out of the line within a few blocks. While I coasted in line, my daughter asked me to define "memorial". I explained that it is a special service to remember a person who has died and to tell his family he will be missed. My oldest thought about this carefully for a moment, then said, "Mom, can we go to the memorial service?"

This is how we ended up at the burial of a person I'd never met. As we drove, we talked about how he died and how his family would miss him. It really struck me how connected we all are. I'd never met this man but I knew from experience the loss his family was feeling as they said goodbye. My heart was wrenched for them and I shared their grief. Since my daughter knows my parents and brother have died, I figured she'd get some of it but I couldn't really tell how much she grasped of this subject. We followed the motorcade all the way to the Arizona National Cemetary, where the cyclist was honored with a veteran's funeral.

As we left, she said, "Mom, can we sing the Barney song?" Thinking that it was an intense event for a little girl and that she was ready to change the subject, I sang it with her. When we finished, my eyes filled with tears because she said,

"That's how I say, 'I love you' to that man who died."

I guess she got it after all.

 Sweet peas are such lovely, delicate, dear little blossoms,
and - a symbol of goodbyes, departure. Seems appropriate...

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