When my Dad was buried at the VA cemetery on Friday, he received full military honors, including a 21-gun salute. I confess the service was very touching. My brother wandered over to the men with the rifles and asked for some of the shell casings for his young sons. They gave him 3 and the remaining 18 to my Dad's wife. I took one of the shell casings from him.
I don't know why this metaphor for my Father's death intrigues me. I placed the shell on my desk. In fact, I am glancing at it now. The trauma of the shot being fired changed the shape and color of the casing slightly. And isn't that just the way life is?
As we age, this fleshly tent changes and evolves, marked by the events and experiences of life. When we die, the physical progression is "suspended" for a time, thanks to embalming fluid and heaven knows what else.
The casing on my desk is hard metal. Funny, that is exactly how my Father's flesh felt to me when I touched him repeatedly in the coffin and talked and cried over him for a good 15-20 minutes. I placed my hand over his and tried to hold it. I patted his chest. I put my face next to his in a last embrace, afraid to kiss him only because my lipstick might leave a mark.
I don't know why I needed to have all this physical contact with my Father's body, with his shell casing. I knew it wasn't "really" him, but it was the closest thing I could get to at that moment. And when the coffin was closed before the service began, when his shell disappeared from view, I felt it in the depths of my soul: goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.
One of the last things I said to my Father was, "See you on the other side, Dad." I promised him it would all be good then.