“Mommy, why is he giving you that?”
Their movements are sharp and controlled, almost beautiful in their pained restraint. They lift and snap the cloth, edges perfectly aligned. With each careful turn they draw closer together, their eyes never parting as white-gloved fingers mark the folds. Bold stripes vanish among the stars.
I don’t remember this. I don’t remember the folding of the flag.
I don’t know if I should. I don’t know if it is among the images that have vanished into the fogginess or if I did not see it. I remember the smell, the heaviness of its oddly triangular weight. The timbre of the voice still echoes deep within that place where memories are hidden, but I cannot see the face nor can I hear the words spoken. I cannot see any of the faces from that day. I still hear the shots fired, bullet casings that remain tucked within the folds. I know the precise moment my hand left my son’s knee to receive it and I remember the words we exchanged while the air around us was silent.
“Sweetheart, they are giving us this to remember your Daddy and because he was a wonderful policeman. They are celebrating him for us.”
“But it is making you cry and I don’t want you to cry. I’m going to be just like him when I am bigger.”
“You already are, lovely boy. You are already are.”
There is something final and inescapable about that moment, the weight of the folded flag pulling you further into your despair as the solemnity of ceremony forces an acceptance of the end. There are words of celebration and remembrance, love and bonds that death can never sever, and images and memories that bring laughter to teary eyes. But it is the flag once draped across the coffin and now folded sharply that sharply reminds you. It is all you have left of the body you leave behind that day.
It is the last gift.
Watching them move, a silent ritual both painful and proud, I wonder if it has the same musty smell and if the fingers receiving it feel the coarseness of the threads. I wonder if the ones they kneel respectfully in front of truly hear the words, or if they will become sharply defined images and sounds that linger for weeks and months before being tucked away in the deep recesses of their minds where memories that sting are carefully saved.
I wonder if they will ever look at a flag flying proudly without wondering.