It was the Wednesday before Memorial Day, 2006. My husband Ralph had died on February 28 of that year. It had been my goal to have his gravestone in place before Memorial Day, and the monument company met the goal.
On that day, my children, grandchildren and I gathered at the cemetery to remember Ralph and to see the new arch-shaped gravestone which I thought was appropriate for Ralph since he was from St. Louis.
It was a warm, sunny day—a perfect Kansas day with a gentle breeze. The wheat was swish, swish, swishing in the field across from the cemetery while our family checked out the new gravestone.
My grandson Will Thomas was just a baby, about one year old at the time. When Will saw Ralph’s photo on the back of the gravestone, Will reached toward the picture, touched it, and said “Papa.” Even though he was very young, he had not yet forgotten his grandpa who he called Papa.
While we were still in the cemetery, a bird with a very long split tail flew past me and my grandson Sam, age 9, and lit on another gravestone. After a brief pause, the bird flew a short distance and lit in a small tree. Prior to that moment, I had never seen a scissortail, but I just knew that was what the bird had to be—a real live scissortail!
Seeing that bird was very significant to me, and I will share why. My late husband’s favorite movie was The Trip to Bountiful, released in 1985, starring Geraldine Page who received an Academy Award for her performance.
The movie is the story of an older woman named Carrie Watts who lived in a small apartment in Houston, Texas, in the l940s with her son Ludie and his wife Jessie Mae who liked to drink “Coca Colas” and visit the beauty shop.
Mother Watt’s “hymn singing” grated on Jessie Mae’s nerves, but the daughter-in-law put up with the older woman living with her and her husband because she liked to spend Mother Watt’s pension check.
In the movie, Carrie wanted to return to Bountiful, Texas, where she had lived in her earlier years just one more time before she died. On various occasions Carrie Watts had tried to “run away” to Bountiful, but the daughter-in-law usually foiled her plan. But on one particular day, Carrie out-foxed her daughter-in-law and took a bus to her deserted, ram-shackled house in the country near what used to be Bountiful. While there, Carrie went inside the house and visited room by room, reflecting, remembering her life there with her husband and young son Ludie.
While walking the pasture near the home place, Carrie reminisced about the birds that have lived near her home in years past. She debated with herself about her favorite bird—the red bird, the mocking bird, or the scissortail?
Carrie finally settled the issue with a statement, “I don’t know anything prettier than a scissortail flyin’ through the sky!”
On that day in the cemetery when I saw a scissortail for the first time ever, I felt the same way—that scissortail was a beautiful sight to see! But it was more than just seeing a scissortail for the first time. It was more like a “connection,” an affirmation, a reassurance.
My grandson Sam and I felt like Ralph knew his family was there remembering him. There could not have been “anything prettier, than a scissortail flyin’ through the sky” on that Wednesday.
Perhaps it was Ralph’s sign to us—his reassurance that all was well with him—that he was up there “flyin’” too! That Memorial Day is one I will never forget. It was a special time to remember, to spend with my family remembering my husband, their father, and grandfather. I believe that day was a milestone on my road to healing.
If your loved one has died, you too may want to honor the one you loved on Memorial Day. Perhaps you will choose to remember your loved one alone, with family or friends. Maybe you will visit the burial site, maybe not. Your choice—you will know what you need to do.
Remembering may bring tears, but tears are healing. Remembering may bring laughter, but laughter is medicine for the soul. Remembering may prompt a sense of gratitude for the time you had with your loved one. Or you, like I, may find reassurance that all is well with your loved one. May this Memorial Day gently move you forward on your path toward healing.
Call about the next "Living Life after Loss" Group at:
Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW, Group Facilitator