My memories are scattered, like dry leaves that refuse to be gathered in the grey winds of hidden pain. Like sparks of light I can see tiny touch points, a glimpse into who I was in the days and months and early years after he was gone. Years later I still avoid them, afraid to see what death had done to me.
Funerals steeped in the formality of service, courage, brotherhood and family are breathtakingly painful celebrations of life. Beautiful expressions of sorrow and pride, rigid formations of uniformed peers honor one lost from their ranks and in that moment the ones we stand behind let us see beyond their fortitude to the emotions within. The flag folded with precision and presented on bent knee. Shots fired in the silent air. Hands at brows in sharp salute. Quiet words of remembrance, honor and sorrow spoken.
But it is the cry of the bagpipes that leaves the deepest mark.
Breaking the silence, the melancholy wail begins in awkward loneliness and swells in celebration and grief until it fills your soul and moves you to want to become something more than you are at that very moment.
For the one left behind, it is entirely more painful and enduring.
Like a stain, it lingers in your memory long after the flowers wilt and the sound of gunfire and bells fade, an eternal reminder of what has been lost. From that moment on, the sound is forever woven into the memories of your pain and yet it is a sound your soul embraces for the strength it offers in those weakest of moments.
Sifting through the debris in my memory, I see him standing alone in the tartan and trappings of tradition. I watched him as he watched me, each of us preparing for the coming ritual of honor. His bagpipes in hand I stared numbly at him, silently comforted by the gift he was preparing. He gazed on me as I held her tiny hand and walked away from the storm to calm us both. With the curiosity and innocence of a child who did not understand the day, she whispered to me.
Who’s that? Why is he wearing that funny hat?
He is here to celebrate your Daddy, sweetheart.
In the picture he is simply a man I do not know, a man lost too soon in a way that does not make sense. But I know those proud eyes and the memory of his kindness lingers with the calling of the pipes in the deepest recesses of my memories. While the ones left behind face a new day with his memory, their loss reverberates against my own. In his desire to serve and honor the fallen, he is indelibly wrapped in the memories of those they left behind. Through the pipes, he reminded us all that memories linger eternally and that somewhere deep within our hearts and souls, as broken as they were in that moment, was a strength we had not yet realized.
The pipes will soon swell for him and the ones he loved. And when they do, we will silently thank him.
For the gift that lingers still.