I’ll Fly Away
Some glad morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To a home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away
– Johnny Cash
We’ve been meaning to throw my Pop in the river for the last 16-ish years…
Mimmie’s had him in her closet since ’98. Oh you know Pop, just hanging out on the top shelf of her walk-in… probably seething at the idea that we’ve had him “in the closet” all this time. ‘Cause that’s something he’d be doing up there; bitching about being stuck in a closet for nearly two decades.
I joke, but honestly, there’s just never been a right time…
A right time to walk into that closet, pull that box down, and let him go.
My Pop passed away from lung cancer when I was 10-years-old.
I can remember him without his hair. I can remember him at his retirement party. And I can remember the last time I saw him… on the back porch.
His dying wish was to be cremated and have his remains thrown in the water behind the house he shared with my Mimmie with “I’ll Fly Away” playing along somewhere in the background. His request was simple and low-key. Just the way my Pop liked things.
Of course, when he passed, there was a huge funeral. Standing room only, a flag ceremony, and a gun salute. People came to the house for food and fellowship afterward. And hell, a week later, a tornado came through and wiped out most of the damn neighborhood. I mean, the whole shoot-n-shebang was anything but low-key.
However, once the dust finally settled, we never followed through with Pop’s requests. None of us asked any questions or made any plans. We didn’t set a date or make any arrangements. He just went to the closet.
And that’s where he stayed.
For 16 years…
It’s not like we intentionally left him in there for 16 years.
It just happened that way.
It’s sorta sad and kinda disrespectful.
Now, now, before you pass judgement, truly think about it…
Who really wants to be the family member to announce, “I think it’s time.” Who wants to take on the responsibility of planning a final goodbye? Or what about just the thought of rehashing the loss of a loved one. Who really wants to do that all over again?
Although it may disturb most, it was sort of comforting to our family knowing Pop was back in that closet. We joked around about it. We teased my Mimmie about it. And in a way, it kept his spirit alive.
But at some point we all knew the day would come.
That day was Saturday, July 19, 2014.
Our whole family (Mimmie, Dad, Momma, Uncle Michael, Auntie Tara, Bubba, Mace, and my three cousins) hosted an extended family dinner at my Mimmie’s house. My great-uncle Beau (Pop’s only living brother) and his three grown children drove over from around the corner. My great-aunt Candy (Pop’s sister-in-law [married to great-uncle Roy]) flew in from Illinois. Lastly, Dad’s cousin, Laura (Candy and Roy’s daughter) flew in from Baton Rouge.
Uncle Roy made the trip too.
All of us had dinner outside by the water. We talked, and laughed, and got to know each other all over again. We told old stories, and played with the dogs, and took pictures on the porch.
And then, when the water started to go down in the creek, we knew it was time.
I know, it’s gonna sound terrible, but trust me, a lot of thought went into this. I had called Mimmie earlier that week and drilled her with questions, “So what do we do? What’s the plan here? I mean, do we just toss him in the water or what? Do we sprinkle? I mean, what’s the protocol for something like this?” “Well, do you want some to take with you?” she replied. “Mimmie! No! We can’t split the man up!” I exclaimed.
Luckily, Candy and Laura came prepared with a plan.
Mimmie, Candy, Laura, and I divided Uncle Roy and Pop up into little Dixie cups.
The four of us then poured everyone a shot of Smirnoff vodka – in memory of Uncle Roy – and a shot of Old Milwaukee beer – in memory of Pop.
Mimmie and Aunt Candy said a few words before everyone mustered up the strength to shoot the hot vodka and the stale tasting beer. Some just poured it out or tossed the liquid in the water. Of course, I chose to throw both back for my homies…
At that point, Laura and I handed everyone a Dixie cup of Pop and Uncle Roy.
We each took our turn pouring the contents into the creek.
Ironically, it was therapeutic.
It wasn’t weird, or gross, or sad, or traumatic.
It was just a Dixie cup of something that once was.
Later that night, after Uncle Beau and his family left, I called everyone over to the dock. This is what I read:
I have thought about this day for a long while now.
I have considered what I would say and how I would feel.
I have sat down to write something time and time again but seem to be at a loss for words.
After all, you were taken from us when I was ten.
I racked my brain, “How can I put a relationship I had with a man when I was a child into words? How can I accurately describe his heart, and his presence, and his spirit when he has been gone so long? More importantly, how can I be sure my memories are mine and not someone else’s?”
I have spent every night this week rummaging through my mind, searching for every memory I have left…
I can still see you sitting at the dining room table in a white undershirt, pants, and black-rimmed glasses. You are reading the newspaper, sipping coffee, and smoking a cigarette. I see you in the backyard with Rox and Josie; sitting in your recliner watching TV; driving the old pontoon down the river. I see you sitting in that white chair on the back patio…
I can vaguely hear your voice. It is raspy and stern. Sadly though, I can no longer hear your words. Too much time has gone by – too many years have passed – for me to vividly recall any conversations we had.
That is what breaks my heart the most…
Night after night I laid in bed staring at the ceiling trying to come up with a sweet story from my childhood to share in your memory. However, the only image I kept going back to were those flowers at your funeral…
Momma had three white roses placed in a vase for you. One for me, one for Blake, and one for Macyn – each of your grandchildren at the time. I can still see them sitting on the mantle in the old living room. Three perfect white roses.
“Why white? Why not red?” my tiny mind wondered.
I tried to push that memory out of my mind… but every time I put my pen to paper I came back to those roses.
So to cure my own curiosity I did a little digging…
“Without vibrant color to upstage it, the formal, structural beauty of the rose is showcased to its best advantage in a bouquet of elegant white roses. Suited to reverent occasions, the white rose is a fitting way to honor a friend or loved one in recognition of a new beginning or a farewell. Their pure color conveys respect, pays homage to new starts and expresses hope for the future.”
My mind was eased.
For the last 16 years, I felt as though those flowers represented loss, despair, and heartbreak. Now, I see them differently…
Those roses represented our new start – the beginning of our new relationship with Pop… the angel. We never “lost” you; you’ve been here all along. You’ve been to every football game, watched every volleyball match, read every blog and celebrated every good grade. You’ve watched over each of us in times of need, laughed with us in times of joy, and helped us through times of hardship.
Today, I brought along with me six roses. One for me, one for Blake, one for Macyn, one for Dylan, one for Hannah, and one for Haley – each of your grandchildren.
These roses are red… to signify our undying love and gratitude.
May the red against the water catch your eye…
Forever in our hearts, our Trooper in the sky.
As I called out each grandchild’s name, I handed them a rose.
We took our turn throwing our roses into the creek.
After each kid was finished, I handed them a second rose.
“Mimmie,” I said, “The six of us would like to give you the other half of this bouquet… to signify our undying love and support.”
We all walked over to our Mimmie, handed her our roses, and gave her hugs.
And that was that.