Continued from, “Death at the front door: Part II”
It’s Wednesday morning now. I haven’t slept much at all for the last two nights. Still with those thoughts of how, why, unbelieveable and I am still powerless to do anything for my little girl of twenty-three years.
My good friend Tom comes over this morning. At this point I am beginning to understand that everyone needs to do something for us… even if nothing can be done. Tom has such a pure heart and for him to take an entire day off (from work) to just hang out with me speaks volumes to me about his priorities and the love he has for me and my family. He says, let’s go get a spiral ham with all the fixins. I tell him that we don’t need any more food. He keeps insisting that we go and get a spiral ham. Finally I just tell him that the refrigerator is stuffed and there is no room. He says, “You need another refrigerator?” His company was doing a big remodeling job and the owners were upgrading all of their appliances and noboddy claimed the refrigerator. It’s less than two years old. So we go get the fridge and the ham with all the fixns. Tom was good to have that day. He just kept loving me through the entire day.
While Tom and I were gone a good friend of the family called from the up-state area. She asked where Buddy was going to be burried. My wife told her that we were still trying to figure that out. Of course there are no burial plots purchased. They checked at the place Lex wanted Buddy burried and the plots were quite expensive. The lady-friend tells my wife that when her mom died a few years earlier she had willed her two plots in that verry same cemetary. She said there wasn’t much she could do at a time like this but she would never use those two plots. Would Alexis like to have them? Unbelieveable, she just signed the deed to two grave plots over. Another thing taken care of!
The Casualty Assistance Officer called today and said he was surprised but the army had agreed to fly Buddy’s remains to Poteau, Oklahoma for the memorial ceremony. So Lex bought last minute plane tickets for herself, my wife, and our other two other daughters. I stayed home with our two and four year old “new kids”.
The ceremony was in the Poteau High School gymnasium. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there. The Patriot Guard Riders turned out in force. One of Buddy’s good friends made a MySpace video of Buddy’s life (watch it hereMySpaceTV Videos: Sgt. Buddy Hughie by frame:45). When they began playing it Alexis and her older sister went down onto the gymnasium floor and cuddled each other. They watched and cried together… as did many of those attending.
They had a long procession to the grave yard where they going to put a marker for “Sgt. Buddy “Doc” Hughie”. Along the route there were people standing holding American flags and saluting. There was the traditional military honors “funeral”. This is where the OK Guard screwed up (the first time). Instead of presenting the flag to Alexis (the widow) they presented it to Buddys mom. That really hurt Alexis and if you could see the picture on the front page of the Poteau Daily News you can see it in her face as she watches the army give her flag to her mother in law. Sure Lex would end up with multiple flags and this wasn’t the “real funeral” but…. Lex would have made sure the family got a flag, especially Buddy’s mom.
Our “new” little girl (Lindsay) and Buddy were pretty close. Sitting her down on that Tuesday after getting home from day care and telling her about Buddy was pretty difficult… for us. We told her that Buddy wouldn’t be coming home from the war. That some bad man had killed him and now Buddy was an angel in heaven with God. “So we won’t see him any more?” (with tears in her little eyes) No, honey, not until we go to live in heaven with God too. “Can we go now?” (tears rolling down her little face) No honey, only God can decide when we go to live with Him. She burried her head in my wifes chest and just boo-hooed.
Being home with our “new kids” all by myself was much more difficult that I had imagined. Of course I couldn’t work nor did I even want to. But I had to be strong…. right.
Lex and the other girls came home Sunday and filled me in on most everything that happened out in OK. They also informed me that Buddy wold be coming in on a flight later that evening.
We chose to use a funeral home near by where I knew the director personally. He and I had gone to church together at the same church my good friend Scott was at. His name is Mike and he couldn’t have been more helpful.
So Mike called and said that the flight would be in at six p.m. if we wanted to meet the plane. They sent a limo over to pick us all up. When we got there, there were several Patriot Guard Riders with the big American flags on their motorcycles. We could see the plane on the tarmak as they were loading Buddy’s coffin into the hearse. It was quite a somber occassion… riding back to the funeral home behind the hearse that containd the body of a young man who had such a radiant smile, a sweet spirit and the heart of a person willing to give his all for another person.
When we got to the funeral home Mike said it would be best if we just went on home and let them take care of Buddy that night. His army friend was still there “guarding” him over night.
Mike called the next morning to let us know that it would be okay to come on over to the funeral home. We also had some official stuff that needed to be taken care of. I’ve never written an obituary but I asked Mike if I could have input in the obit becasue I didn’t want little Cooper to have to one day read this sanitary obituary about his daddy. I wanted the obit to try to capture at least part of the essence of the man that is his father. Sure he said (you can see it here buddy-obit). I think with our joint effort we were successful.
When we got to the funeral home the casket was open. Lex stood across the room… again with her hands clutched to her chest… not crying just wanting to but not wanting to go see her love as he lay in that casket with that mortician make up on. I had my arm frimly wrapped around her, telling her it was okay. Just take your time honey. She just shuffled her feet, half a foot at a time. She began to tremble as we got closer and grabbed my hand around her shoulder. Eventually we made it. She stood there silent for the longest time. Then she reached down and put her hand on top of his white gloved hands folded across his lower chest. Not saying anything but speaking volumes. After a long time standing there she says, “He looks so peaceful.” Now I’m crying as I replied, “He is honey, he’s at peace now.” Everyone else was around us by now, hugging, crying and remarking at how “good he looks”.
I learned later that day that Buddy’s family from OK would be coming in that evening for the funeral on Wednesday. Buddy’s mom, grandmother, grandfather and sister came. As I look back I imagine that Lex paid for that too. They did not have much and to deprive them of seeing their son/grandson/brother burried would be too harsh a thing to overcome. Lex loves them too so it would only be a natural thing for her to do.
They all came over to the house that night after they got in. We visited a while and made arrangements for them to come back over the next morning (Tuesday) and we would all go the the funeral home together.
The visit to the funeral home Tuesday morning was pretty difficult. Buddy’s grandmother just kept screaming and crying. Buddy’s grandmother and grandfather adopted Buddy when he was around four years old because his mother had problems. Fortunately Buddy’s mom was able to eventually overcome her issues and they rekindled their relationship a few years before his death.
The visitation was that night. It was really a beautiful occassion as far as those things go I suppose. Once again the Patriot Guard Riders showed up in force. Their motorcycles all lined up in the back and they lined up like an honor guard at the entry to the funeral home. I can’t honestly say how many people were there but it was packed all night. I don’t think I have ever been hugged so much in my entire life.
Alexis was pretty much cried out by now and just sat in a chair as people walked by to offer their heartfelt condolances. She just sat there about fifteen feet from her love and little Cooper’s daddy. My friend Mike the funeral director arranged for a large television and a DVD player and they looped that MySpace video to play the entire night. People who had never met Buddy were crying as they watched that thing.
At some point that evening Mike (the funeral director) asked me how many limos we needed to pick us up on Wednesday morning. I told them I didn’t really know but there were twenty-three of us total family members but the army was only going to pay so much money. He said, “Don’t you worry at all about that. We’ll take care of it.” I later found out that what he really meant was that they weren’t going to scrimp to cut costs. They were going to accept whatever the army paid and they would pay for the rest themselves!
Wednesday morning comes around and it’s time to leave for the funeral and three stretch black limos pull up in front of the house. We have to say our public goodby to a man who has meant so much to our family. We get to the funeral home and there are some big army brass there. I went right up to the two star General and introduced myself. He offered his condolances and told me what a remarkable soldier Buddy was (Buddy was awarded two Bronze Stars with Valor and a Purple Heart) The General asks if there is anything he can ever do to just let him know. As a matter of fact I said through tears… if it is at all possible I really would like an American flag that had been flown over the base where Buddy was killed. He said he could make that happen.
Everyone was seated and they opened the doors at the back to let the family in. My pastor was officiating the funeral. He did such an awesome job. He introduced the two star General who said all the things you would expect someone in his position to say. It was nice. Then my pastor introduced me by name and as Buddy’s father-in-law. Lex said I could speak but she wasn’t sure at all I would be able to. So I go up and began to pull out the paper I’de written my notes on but at the last second decided to speak extemporaneously. Honestly, I don’t recall exactly all I said that day but it was something like this. “You have heard a good bit this morning about Sergant Buddy Hughie. Now I want to tell you about the Buddy I knew and came to love. I knew right away when Buddy first started coming around that there was something different about him… I didn’t dislike him when we first met. Buddy and I worked together side by side for nearly a year. I was fortunate enough to watch Buddy closely. Not many father-in-laws know their son-in-laws like I knew Buddy. The way he treated people, his respectful attitude toward everyone he met. He would do anything for anyone. I was able to watch how he treated Alexis and could clearly see the love they had for each other. When Buddy came home a few months ago for the birth of little Cooper you should have seen the gleen of pride he had in his eyes for that boy. He fed him, changed his diapers, cuddled him in the bed while they napped together He would have been quite a wonderful daddy for little Cooper. Not only is Buddy a bonafied American Hero but he was a remarkable human being. The world will be a little darker without him. We will miss him terribly.”
Watching them load Buddy’s coffin with the Stars and Stripes over it was difficult too. We were on our way to the cemetary. I had made arrangements with this friend of ours who is a videographer to video the entire grave side ceremony. He said it would be his honor and he would not consider accepting any money for it either.
Everyone gathered around the grave site. I think about ninety percent of the people who were at the funeral ceremony came to the grave site. We watched as they unloaded the casket, marching in step, setting it down on those nylon straps then stepping back and all saluteing at once. My pastor read some Scripture and made a few comments. Then, the twenty-one gun salute. Lex kinda jumping at each shot. Then the other soldiers slowly and deliberately removing the flag from the coffin, stretching it tight, ever so slowly and too fold it deliberately, precisely the way they were supposed to. They present the flag to the two star General, he marches over to Alexis, having one hand on top of the flag the other on the bottom. He bends on one knee and gives her the flag and says “On behalf of a greatful nation…..
The official good by was over. We all retruned to our home for the traditional food binge. The church ladies had set up a pretty good spread (new food). After a couple of hours it was mostly family left. We talked about all kinds of things. The house was completely packed with flowers and plants. The fragrance of them all was beautiful.
Although it was “over” I had no clue about grieving and how each person handles grief and the grieving process in their own way.
It really wasn’t over. It had really just begun.