So, once again on Thursday I found myself in the backseat of my brother's Subaru on our way back to North Dakota for the second time in a month's worth of days. This time it was to say goodbye to my dear, sweet Grandpa Conrad. Although I feel that last month when we said goodbye in person (not knowing it would be our last), sealed with one last hug and saw the tears in his 92 year old, still as blue as the day he was born, eyes, that it was really goodbye. A goodbye I will never forget.
I had all last week to prepare myself for the funeral. I thought that perhaps I had dealt with it all so well that tears and sad thoughts were completely unnecessary. All last week, family members and friends seemed a little shocked that I had no tears when they offered crackly voice condolences to me. I thanked them and wondered what everyone was so weepy about. He had 92 years of life, and love, and banjo pickin', for crying out loud! Why should I be sad?
About 10 minutes before the service started, I was standing with the Gardener in the gathering area of the church where family and friends were milling around, when all of a sudden I was overcome with emotion. I'm not even sure of the initial trigger since everyone was fairly upbeat yet. Perhaps it was seeing the flowers our good friends had sent for the service, or seeing the hundreds of pictures assembled on large poster size foam boards on easels on either side of my grandfather's jacket from back when he was in the Army during World War II, or just the reality of it all. I found myself weeping in the bathroom, blowing my nose into a wad of toilet paper, finally letting the sad out.
The service was beautiful, though more religious than I ever remember my grandfather. Although I couldn't entirely appreciate the religious portion of it, I do appreciate that so much attention to detail was shown by the pastor. He included and recited the words of the song that Grandpa sang first at my wedding then at the weddings of 2 of my cousins and again at my grandmother's birthday party last summer. My cousin Kevan gave the most fitting eulogy for our grandfather, including some of our 90 favorite things from 2 years ago when my grandfather turned 90. Nobody was left out, just the way Grandpa would have wanted it. He had so much love for us all that it was hard to cry even if my body wouldn't listen and did it anyway, because I know he would have said to all of us, "Don't cry, Grandpa loves you."
After the church service, we all gathered outside for the military service complete with a 21 gun salute and flag presentation. Since my grandfather so generously donated his body to the University of North Dakota medical school, there was no flag draped coffin, but other than that, the funeral was quite traditional. Very emotional too. I don't think there was one dry eye in the whole crowd while the bugler played Taps.
After the service, my brother mentioned that the day before (Veteran's Day) he heard a statistic that WWII veterans are dying at a rate of 1000 per day. I just did a quick Internet check to verify that figure, and found that:
According to statistics released by the Veteran’s Administration, our World War II vets are dying at a rate of 900 a day (previous studies listed 1,200 but the number has declined due to a decrease in the total number of World War II veterans). This means that there were approximately 16,000,000 veterans at the end of the war and there are just under 2,000,000 still with us today.Soon they will all be gone, but never forgotten.