Archive | October 2013

Military and Funerals

Military and Funerals…

The soldiers stood at attention with their swords lifted as the coffin arrived through the doors of the church. Inside almost every military member that was not working on that day filled the pews of their fallen friend. I sat quietly next to my husband just behind the wife. There wasn’t a dry eye in the chapel…mine included. We were young and I had never been to a funeral when I attended this one. The Coast Guardsmen was twenty-four and had walked off a cliff in Alaska while hiking in the fog. It was a tragic loss and all I could think of at the time was…this could be my husband.

The Chaplin spoke from the pulpit while the Honor Guard stood silent watch over the ceremony. Yes, the term is ceremony. Unlike many civilian funerals, a military funeral is shrouded in dignified rituals and ceremonious protocol. I don’t remember giving the ceremony much thought back then. I was upset and remember looking around at my peers wondering if they were thinking what I was thinking. The deceased was a very well liked young man with a great personality. He and his wife were trying to get pregnant and they were excited about the future. She had just found out she had conceived. Every person in that church was thinking about God’s hand in their lives and wondered what could possibly be the reason for this tragedy. When the young man’s flag covered coffin was carried out past us, we followed brokenhearted and wondering about our own mortality and that of our active duty military.

It has been many years since then and I have witnessed a handful of funerals where our military have been present. It is always the same now, now that I am aware of my surroundings and the numbness of death. The parking lot is scattered with men and women in their best dress uniforms, quietly talking and waiting to enter the church. They wait all together while the family and friends take their place inside. Then they silently enter in mass. Every civilian is aware of their presence as they watch the group remove their covers and sit rigidly shoulder to shoulder in the back of the service. They each enter the condolence line and whisper words of comfort to the family, whether they had met before or not. Such was the case of my mother-in-law’s funeral. My husband and I sat quietly in the front pew not aware of the large presence of Coast Guardsmen waiting outside to enter. What it was that made us all turn, because they did enter quietly, I will never know. But we turned and my husband’s heart was comforted knowing that his men felt the desire to provide him support in his time of need. Again they showed up on the sad passing of a wife who had taken her own life. The chapel filled to the brim and each member held their friend and his children, supporting them in the best way they knew how.

Today I witnessed the highest form of military burial, the one held in Arlington at the National Cemetery. As my husband and I exited our car, there in the parking lot stood the “uniforms” quietly waiting. Because the memorial service was held on Fort Meyers,it was clear that most everyone standing outside The Old Post Church would be wearing uniforms. On the direction of the burial director, the servicemen and women were asked to enter the church. The last to enter was the family taking their seats in the front row. Two Chaplains took their place on the pulpits and were prepared to eulogize the fallen member as the organ played the Service Member Hymn. Unlike my first funeral, I was very aware of those around me and the ceremonial protocol in place. No one sat with the Commandant of the Coast Guard except his Executive Assistant, and behind him sat the Admirals. The Captains and non-commissioned officers all sat on the opposite side of the aisle and the civilians filled in behind the military. It was surprisingly the opposite of what I had come to know.

Behind me I heard the clicks of shoes and knew that the funeral procession had begun as the Honor Guard silently marched in carrying the American flag and the cremated remains of the fallen service member. We all stood silently watching as they placed both on a small table bearing the members picture. I felt a tear slid down my cheek as I watched his family dab their eyes. The chaplains spoke eloquently about his service to our country and his new home in Heaven. The organ began to play a soft hymn as the sound of orders being issued were heard from outside the church doors. The clicking shoes of the Honor Guard again filled the old church as they retrieved the fallen member. We followed quietly out the door.

Outside the caisson (horses and coffin) stood waiting for the ceremonial ride to the service member’s final resting place. The Honor Guard stood in formation just in front of the caisson ready to lead them on a mile and a half or more trip down to the internment wall. I was startled to see so many Coast Guardsmen when I came out of the church. There were four members flanking the caisson and at least thirty standing in ranks. My husband found his place behind the two highest Admirals while I found my car to follow in the procession.

What I experienced next was surreal. I doubt that many people write about their experiences with funerals in Arlington, and perhaps that is why I felt I should share with you now…but the procession was like the one we all see on TV. The Honor Guard marched for close to two miles as the caisson clapped against the pavement. Those visiting the cemetery stood silently as the caisson passed, some with their hands over their hearts, others at attention. The tombstones in their uniformed rows, white against the plush green of grass and trees, sat in endless formation. As I drove, I read the name plates of active service members and their spouses,finding that the women’s stones only read “His wife.” The procession wound it’s way from the top of the cemetery down to the base,and to my surprise,we were met by another set of Honor Guard. They stood at attention near the wall of internment, while the marching Honor Guard took their place in the field behind the bugler. To their right seven riflemen stood at attention like toy soldiers preparing for battle. We followed the walking procession thru the Honor Guard and to the Internment Ceremonial stage. There the highest ranking Admirals and Chaplains spoke. One brought it all home when he said, “You are mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes…”(James 4:14) Then the guns were raised and the twenty-one gun salute shook the grounds and those of us standing. The clicks sounded against the walls as the Honor Guard moved to fold the unfurled flag. They popped it’s sides and corners and tucked our American Pride into itself until it was ready to be presented to the family.The lead Guard sharply turned and presented Old Glory to the Commandant of the Coast Guard, who saluted the flag then ceremoniously placed his hands above and below the flag, taking possession of it from the Guardsman. Turning with pride and the call to duty, the Commandant turned towards the family. Quietly he knelt down in front of the spouse and brought tears to everyone’s eyes when he said, ” Please accept this on behalf of the President, the Coast Guard and a grateful nation. He then shook the family member’s hands, followed by the Admirals, Chaplains and each member of the Honor Guard standing in ranks near the stage. I was startled by the words of encouragement and sincere condolences these complete strangers bestowed on the grieving family. Not a single Guardsman said the same thing to the three family members. It was incredibly touching and all I could think of was how special the moment had been.

At the conclusion of the ceremony we were led to the internment wall where a brass box bearing the fallen guardsmen’s name was place into the wall in silence. The Chaplain spoke again, the family played a seventies song, “Spirit in the Sky”…and then it was done, finished, over… we quietly said our own condolences and departed the cemetery.

I imagine that this will not be my last military funeral or one where our military will be present…But one thing is for certain, our active military understand the importance of honoring our loved ones probably more than most…for it is they that risk their lives to protect the very loved ones for which they honor.imageimageimage

 

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I Want to Live in Animal Heaven…

 sheba heaven  Have you ever wondered if there is more than one heaven? I mean, think about it… I’m not talking about heavens that are described in different religions. I’m referring to “types” of heaven. I was thinking about this the other day when I was praying to God about keeping my “deer” friends in the woods and off the road. It made me think about where a deer goes when it dies. That’s when I realized that God had to have more than one heaven. God certainly has to have an Animal Heaven for all the good animals that have passed from this earth.

Picture it…a place where all the animals get along (and aren’t eating each other); where they can be free of cars and leashes and people. It sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Animal Heaven would have enough grass for the animals to eat, sleep and play on. The animals wouldn’t  worry about killing each other because God would make sure everyone had enough to eat and drink.  Picture each animal romping around doing what they do best without worrying about being shot or harmed in any way. And of course, they would all be happy animals because they had to be good to get into Animal Heaven in the first place.      

Why would I want to live in Animal Heaven instead of People Heaven? REALLY? You have to ask? Even though everyone in Heaven got there because they were good…could you imagine the chaos up there if God allowed everyone to do what they liked to do? Surely there would be problems…imagine a young person playing loud music near an old one, or a toddler banging on a toy while a person is reading. Come on, you didn’t really think there’s  only harps and flapping angel wings up in Heaven did you? (I’m just guessing here…)

No, I think Animal Heaven sounds perfect…because you and I both know that furry animals (versus humans) are much nicer, innocent, and loving than most of us… and where else could we find our loving pet waiting for us…you guessed it…only in Animal Heaven.

 

Wounded Warrior

Today as I forced myself down the aisles of the commissary (military grocery store), I found myself staring at an item located on the top shelf. I’m five feet…need I say more? I was annoyed that any store would even think to place an item out of my reach. I actually was a little more than annoyed. I turned to look for someone tall when I came to see a wounded warrior traversing the aisle in his wheelchair, or motorized device…it was then that I realized I had nothing to complain about. Thank you dear wounded warrior for your service!

Why We Write

I read Serpent Box’s blog today on I Am the Sugar Man…and wanted to share this from his page. I think it says it all…

What is writing?

It’s my concrete interpretation of life. It’s how I process this thing, this existence of mine, of yours, of ours. Feelings happen. Emotions swell. Images build. I have questions. I see ghosts. What is going on? What is all this? A dream? A dream inside a dream? There’s no need to dwell on those questions. Tell stories instead. Write.

The very process of holding a pen, of moving its tip across the surface of paper while simultaneously seeing an image in my mind’s eye, draws the anxiety out like poison and turns it into sweet music that not only heals, it illuminates, it reinforces the bridge to the divine.

http://serpentbox.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/i-am-the-sugar-man/

Dream Baby

 

Little baby tiny and sweet

Cradled in a dream of sleep

Eyes a fluttering, lips in a pout

You are my darling, there is no doubt.

Watching you as you grow,

Will be the greatest gift I’ll know.

Dream my baby tiny and sweet,

Rock in your cradle of love so deep,

Dream of mommy and daddy too,

Dream and know that we love you.

                                             V. Smith 5/12

 

Men Love Their Cars!

If you ask a man about a car, you’re sure to get a complete rundown on the vehicle whether you want it or not. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing…I’m just saying that men and cars are like peanut butter and jelly…they just go together.  I hadn’t really noticed this fact until after I was married, which is strange since I have four brothers. But the truth is, my husband owned a 67 Chevy Nova and it was his pride and joy. I did not understand the love he had for this car, for when I met him he was station on a ship in Hawaii and his car was still in California. Eventually we made it back together to California where I witnessed my then boyfriend’s obsession with his car. He babied it and kept it cleaner than most people keep their houses. He loved me enough to agree to let me drive it…but I think he was secretly thrilled when my feet did not touch the pedals. It had a column shift and I just didn’t understand how special that and the whole car  was to a guy in 1980. Sadly to say, for my husband, he sold the car in 1983 when we got married so that we could buy furniture for our tiny apartment in Sitka, Alaska.

Flash forward four years…we are still in Alaska and I decide to show my husband how much I love him. Doing something totally out of character for me, I went out and bought a 1977 white Corvette for my husband. When he arrived home from work, he was stunned that I bought him his dream car…well, the make not the year…but it was good enough. He was like a kid in a candy store. He spent hours cleaning and waxing that vette until you could see yourself in its paint. Actually it was a crazy car to buy in a town with fourteen miles of road…and even crazier with  ninety-five percent rain yearly. But we would crank up the heat and take the T-tops off and we were in heaven. Let me rephrase that…my husband was in heaven.  Imagine his joy when we moved to Hawaii and took the car with us. It was the perfect car for Hawaii and he loved every minute of driving it there.  Sadly to say again…he gave it up when our first born entered the world. There just wasn’t any place for a baby to sit and I did not want our baby to be a hood ornament.

My husband religated himself to driving a small Toyota pick up truck while the family car, a Pontiac Grand Am, served as his “sports car. He didn’t care that it wasn’t a classic or a real sports car, he treated it as if there was no car better on the road. Even his truck was handled with care. Imagine his horror when I let a golf club slip from my hands and it went crashing into on of the windows. I thought it was hilarious…he did not.

Image                                                       About this time my son was a toddler being introduced to Match Box cars and Hot Wheels. My son and husband would play for hours with those little cars, discussing what made each special and how to recognize them on the roads. I thought my husband was silly and wondered if my son would ever remember all that he was being taught.

Flash forward to my son’s middle school years…as a family we are traveling down to Florida from Virginia and my husband points out a Prowler up ahead. My son gets excited and begins giving my husband the stats on the car. How does he know this? I have no clue. I make the mistake of saying it is ugly and both men glare at me for what seemed like a year! As we made the journey down south I found out that my husband and son knew everything about every car we passed. Weird, I know. Do we own car magazines? No! Do we watch car shows? Well, not then. So that’s when I figured that men and cars must just go together. There must be a gene that is embedded in the male anatomy that, like a tiny micro chip, draws a man to a car. 

I’m sitting in a parking lot the other day and I notice a young man pull up in a corvette and I smile. I remember my husband and his car, and figure this man is probably loving life right now…especially since it is rare to see a young person driving one of these over-priced cars today. I wonder if he loves his car as much as my husband loved his, and as much as my son loves his current car, when I witness the man exit the car. This is not strange, you’re right. But as he shut the door he kissed his hand and placed it on his car and said good bye. He caught my eye and smiled…and I knew…he loved his car like peanutbutter loves jelly….like men love their cars….they always have and always will.

Memories of a Loved Dog

2012 333

Memories of a Loved Dog

By Vikki Smith  

            The shadows danced across the floor where she lay basking in the warm sun. Across the vast hall the clatter of dishes and the murmur of soft voices gently lulled her to sleep in her favorite spot near the door. How many times had she lain resting here waiting for her family to arrive from an outing, was it a hundred or two hundred times? Perhaps it had been more, but her memory was now waning in her old age.

            Her whiskers twitched as she began to dream of her puppyhood…to the day she met her new special family. It had started out as every other day, but then there they were, looking down at her. They seemed so strange with their excited voices and eager hands. She had been frightened, but there was something comforting in their voices that made her nose twitch in a good way. She had a new mommy and daddy and children to love. Of course over the years, their voices would sooth her worries, excite her in play, and lovingly tell her how special she was. Her mommy would kiss her soft ears and whisper, “Mommy loves her little baby,” while daddy would massage her with his giant hands telling her, “What a good girl she was.” If only she could tell them how much she loved them. But all she could do was wag her tail and give a quick lick of loving approval. She loved them dearly, and in her sleep she could see herself snuggling up to one of them, feeling their love engulf her as she lay resting her head in one of their laps.

            As she lay warming her aged body in the sun, she could hear the sound of far off waves and boats going by. It had been like this for years as she travelled the world with her special family. She could remember the smell of each place they had lived as if it were yesterday. The smell of Sea salt near the oceans, car exhaust in the cities, and flowers that mom had planted around the houses. But it was the smells of her family that she most loved. Mom always smelled sweet like the flowers she planted. The smell wasn’t strong enough to tickle her nose, like the honeysuckle growing on the fence, but it was fragrant enough to know that her darling mommy was near. Daddy was different depending on the day. On days where he wore his uniform he smelled like the can of white foam he used on his face. But she liked him best on the days he worked in the yard or played with the kids. It was a manly smell. He would be wet and taste like salt. The children were always different. In her sleep she could still see the children at every age of their lives. As they grew into little people, they took on the smells of food they had eaten or yards where they had played. She could recall the feelings of jealousy when they would arrive home from an outing and smell like another dog or a stinky cat. She would sulk away and pout until they found her and loved her back into their lives. She loved the smells of their teenage years as they readied themselves for dates, or smelled of sweaty sporting events or concerts. She would often lay on forgotten outfits strewn on the floor, or carry a sock to her bed to hold her over till someone paid attention to her. She was silly, but she loved them so much that she couldn’t imagine being with any other family in the world.

            A sound resonated across the floor, stirring her for a moment as she sniffed the air for danger. Mom hollered out that she was okay.  She contemplated getting up, but this would require energy and she really was quite content dreaming of her family, so she resettled herself and drifted quickly off to sleep. Coming through the haze of her memory she watched as her little children grew up. Her heart beat loud as she thought of them. She had always treated them as if she had given them birth, watching over them when mommy and daddy were busy or away. But they were toddlers when she had come to live with them, and they had grown up together. She was their best friend and they were hers. She would be the rough and tough boy toy or the sweet confidant for an ever-changing girl of emotions. She could sense when they were sick, happy, or sad. It didn’t matter which it was…she loved them just the same. Her heart beat slower as she saw them as adults, for just like when they entered the family, one behind the other, they left the house the same way, only to visit on occasion. She couldn’t wait for their return on holidays and summers. She was most happy during these times because her whole family was together again. It didn’t matter if there was a squabble or laughter, it was like old times…times she had held in her heart and locked in her memory.

            Now it is just mommy and daddy, and there are people who come and go in the house. She follows mommy from room to room like a shadow afraid to lose its host. She doesn’t hear or see like she once did, and she fears that her heart will only carry her in this life for so long. She knows that mommy and daddy are worried about her. They gently stroke her coat and nuzzled her when she is near. But while she is here she will do her job to love and protect her special family. And even though she will no longer run to the door on their arrival, she will get there any way she can, because that’s what a loved dog is supposed to do…that’s what she is supposed to do. And when that day comes when she must leave them, they will know that she lived a life full of joy and love. She will have been loved like no other could be loved…because they loved her with all of their hearts. And when this dream is over, she will look forward to napping again, for she will dream of memories of a loved dog…