The Secret of the Coffin

For too many people, a coffin holds a secret.

The death of a loved one is born in many ways: Some exhibit tears. Some are silently stoic. Some jabber to hide the pain.

Cancer was killing Daddy. I knew cancer was killing Daddy. I knew cancer was killing Daddy and it wouldn’t be long coming.

I didn’t believe it. Not a word.

Momma told me about his decision to forego treatment because it would give him six, maybe, more months of living. Yes, the living would’ve been life, but what is life while a machine is pulsing radiation into your brain and while chemicals turn you into a withered shell of your former self? Like when a spider liquefies its victim’s insides for its meal.

At the hospital, Daddy explained his reasoning. My tears told him I understood. And I cried no more.

Not even when the family watched him take his last breath.

The spider had sucked me dry of emotion and replaced it with The Secret of the Coffin. Then again, there’s another possible consideration: When the funeral home personnel said we could come see him, we did. Why I saw him in his coffin, its Secret liquefied my insides. My Daddy was dead, dead, dead, dead, and nothing would change that.

The ocean of me flowed, salty and hateful and draining me of my last vestiges of denial.

MY DADDY WAS DEAD, DEAD, DEAD, DEAD AND NOTHING WOULD CHANGE THAT.

That was/is the saddest day of my life; many know what I mean.

When a boy has a great daddy–one who shared those sacred boyhood passions like fishing to name only one–it means more than any fish.

I can still see him in my mind’s eye: I can smell the sweet and savory aroma of pipe tobacco. I can see the slight opening of his two top-center teeth, what I called in a short story I wrote about him, “his gap-toothed grin.” I can feel his arms around me when he understood the importance of telling his grown son he loved him. I can feel his confidence when he was my best man during my second marriage, now in its twenty-fifth year.

No matter how much I know it’s wrong to allow it, regrets sometimes nibble around the edge of my heart: ants on the core of an apple turning brown in the summer sun. As time passes, I can’t decide if those minuscule bites hurt more or less.

This year I aged a year past his age when he died. Another ant to nibble.

Despite how it might sound, the ants and spiders are losing.

Daddy died the year he was my best man. The last thing he told me about my marriage was to “just love one another.”

Simple words from a man who must’ve had hidden complications; I can’t help but feel he, like most parents, are panes of glass when we glance but mirrors when we look.

One ant leaves, another takes its place, but since I understand them, they leave more often than they arrive.

Just love one another.

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In Fiery Splendor

sunset over the Albemarle sound

As the budding rose is to the rising sun

drawing forth in fiery splendor

so are we

As the smile of a child is to the parent’s heart

bringing forth love in all its mysterious ways

so are we

As the gull is to wave tops

endlessly seeking above crests foamy and golden at sunrise

so are we

As the oak leaf is to emerald grandeur

awaiting the final downward drift with gust and gale

so are we

As we each seek our path, yearning above all else to

lock hope away in our hearts

instead

set it free

Allow hope to bloom, to laugh, to soar

and

at the end

you will pass forth with joy and thanksgiving

filled to everlasting

Remember.

Memories of

Sons

and Daughters

Sisters

and Brothers

Uncles

and Aunts

Mothers

and Fathers

Grandfathers

and Grandmothers

Great Grand-mothers

and Great-grandfathers

and cousin upon cousin

and friends

From every corner of the free world

courage

sacrifice

honor

They all gave and many gave their all.

This and every Memorial Day

Remember.

A Parent’s Dream

She stood in the

green field of

grass and flowers,

her black curls

hanging

like spun licorace

about her bare and bronzed shoulders.

Her son, head barely reaching her waist.

held her hand,

and he stared as she pointed.

Among the blue sky and tree tops

in the distance,

always-

in the distance,

Among the the blooms and birds

far away,

always-

far away,

she gestured and said,

“Look at what peace exists.”

“See what life can hold for you,

for your soul.”

He gazed from her to the view

and from the view to her.

“But how?”

She knelt and looked into brown irises.

She placed his small, dark hand onto her chest

and said,

“Love will get you there. Yours, your father’s, and mine.

But all in all, it’s up to you more than us.

You must dream large dreams, and not for us, but for yourself.”

He looked at the scene again,

and a hummingbird stopped in front of him.

It hovered and buzzed back and forth, up and down.

“Will he help?” asked the boy.

“If you value him,” she said.

A butterfly, yellow and black and fluttering with life

lit on a purple flower.

“Will he help?”

“If you value him.”

“What about other people?”

“They can,” she said taking him into her arms,

“But …”

“What?”

“You must value yourself first. If you do that, if you love yourself,

if you know life can be everything I have shown you, and more,

they will help too.”

He smiled and said,

“I hope.”

“What?”

“That lots of children have a mom or dad like you.”

“Me too,”