A bowl of peanuts wrapped in paper-thin skins reminds me of my grandfather, his swollen knuckles and rough hands a reflection of the hard life he lived. The smell of a pipe is always followed by an echo of the wet cough that ultimately took my other grandfather’s life. Swedish Fish bring back images of summertime and walking with cousins to the corner store for penny candies.Peanuts, pipes and penny candies.
This week we watched a remarkable young man receive the Eagle Scout distinction from the Boy Scouts of America. A year ago, I knew nothing about scouting except that it was time consuming and therefore I wanted nothing to do with it. Our schedule was already stretched beyond capacity. So, when I was approached to be on the receiving end of an Eagle Scout project, I didn’t realize what it entailed. I now know it means a great deal and the formality of the evening made that clear.I expected to celebrate a young man’s achievement. I did not expect bagpipes. I was not prepared for bagpipes.
Funerals steeped in formality are breathtaking. Beautiful expressions of sorrow and pride, with rigid formations of uniformed peers honoring one lost from their ranks. The flag folded with precision and presented on bent knee. Shots fired in salute. The cry of the bagpipes.The melancholy wailing begins in awkward loneliness and swells in celebration and grief, a sound that fills your soul and moves you to want to become something more than you are at that very moment. For a widow, it is something entirely more painful and enduring. Like a stain, it lingers in your memory long after you leave the black dress, wreaths and dress uniforms behind, a constant reminder of what has been lost.
I don’t know why I turned to my son when the bagpipes began. The flash of pain crossed his face and vanished so quickly that it almost wasn’t there, and in that moment I realized that he had heard the pipes only once before. On a day when there was no escaping the depth and finality of our loss. As much as the sound has left an indelible mark on my soul it has left an even deeper one on my children.
I knelt down and whispered as he reached for my hand – “Never forget. Daddy will always live here in your heart.” I pulled him close and covered his racing heart as the pipes swelled inside mine.