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North American Dreaming: Remains

William Burkholder finds himself experiencing sober and uplifting thoughts when he visits his father's grave for the first time.

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We pulled through the gates, past the caretaker's office and made the slow deliberate drive to my fathers' grave. This was to be my first visit to the cemetery. The year since his passing, my mother had kept dad's ashes in a beautiful blue marble box. I was a bit surprised when I called her on the phone one Sunday evening to find out that Dad had been interred.

"Mom, I said, you could have called and I would have come to the service."

She told me in her usual calm voice that we had had the service a year before and that my father had wanted it this way, no big fanfare, no tears at the gravesite etc. and as always my mother had honored his wishes.

She pointed me to a spot where I could park the car along the quiet tree-lined road. The morning dew was still heavy on the grass as we walked, me helping my mother to ensure that she could navigate the wet uneven ground. Just a few graves in, I saw the head stone with my father's name on it and the fresh patch of earth where the marble box had been buried. Days earlier, my mom and my sister had come up to plant flowers around the grave and be the first to pay their respects at the gravesite.

I stood there looking at the headstone, I bent down and touched the brown granite, memories of my childhood flashing back all at once, and in an instant, knew that although this was the spot marking my father's grave, memorializing him, I knew he was not there.

Yes, his remains were there, safely housed in the blue marble box deposited back to the earth in which we all come from, and eventually return to, but my father, the man who raised me, my mother's husband, the man she loved and lived with for well over 55 years - he was not there.

His time on earth had ended, his journey was over. What lay in the ground in that cemetery were the earthly remains of a great man. His soul, his joyous laughter and keen wit were nowhere to be found, except in my memory. He had been gifted to us by the great heavenly powers above. His labors had been honest; his challenges had been many.

However, his perseverance, his strength had never waned.

I learned fortitude from my father. I learned that no matter what life has to throw at you, you could either duck it or catch it. He caught the things in life that had been thrown at him each time. To this day, he is one of the strongest, most determined individuals that I have known.

As I knelt at the gravesite, coming to these realizations, I looked up at my mom and told her that dad was no longer in pain, and that he had graduated life and was in a much finer place. I did not reveal to her my realizations, fearing that it might upset her.

Cemeteries are places where the living go to honor their loved ones, to remember them and show their continued love and respect. However, we should never go there with the idea of feeling their presence around us. This is not a sign of disrespect to those who faithfully visit these hallowed fields and gardens. On the contrary, it is a statement of on-going respect for my father and my mother, and a son's realizations about life and his own mortality. The lessons about such things such as life and death I have learned from them.

I left for Detroit and home the next day, still thinking about my father, my mother and sisters. Thinking about the time when I would shed these earthly robes and graduate this life. Would I do it with the same amount of dignity that my father had? Would I show the strength that my mother had if, God forbid, my other family members, or wife went before me?

The answers to these questions do not come readily to me however, I do know that in that cemetery are the mere remains of my father, not the man that he was or is. He is indeed, in a much finer place than that of a green earthly garden dotted with granite monuments, he is in Heaven his robes are brand-new his vestments pure and forgiven.

Then what remains on earth? Our memories of him, but let there be no mistake. He does not reside in that cemetery. Therefore, as my father had wanted, I did not cry at his gravesite, I celebrated his graduation. I counted my blessings for being lucky enough to be called his son. No, he is not there, but at the gates waiting for us all to come home and be with him.


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