Today is Daddy’s 76th birthday. We celebrated it with his favorite, chocolate peanut butter cake. We sang Happy Birthday to him and sat in the grass eating his cake, trying to ignore the noise of the nearby heavy equipment. It was a beautiful day to celebrate his birthday outside. The sky was bright blue; the sun was warm; and the trees and bushes were vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and gold. When we were ready to go my 6 year old suggested that we leave Papa a piece of cake, so we cut it and left it on a paper plate. My 3 year old wasn’t ready to go though, and I had to physically pry her off of the marble gravestone.
My dad served his country during the Korean War as a combat air patrolman. He was proud of his military service and told several stories of near death escapes over the water. He always stated that the VA would bury him for free; he was to be laid to rest in the veterans’ memorial cemetery. That was just how it was to be.
When Daddy died last April my brother tried to cremate my dad and wanted his ashes scattered on a remote mountainside that is gated and locked. My brother holds the only key. At the funeral home my brother and supposed half-brother mocked the contents of my dad’s wallet as I sat sobbing and shaking. My brother even lied to the funeral director and told him that my dad never saw combat. Fortunately, the prim looking man in the navy suit was a former police officer from Southern California. He can smell a man like my brother a mile away. He excused himself and called Veteran’s Affairs. Upon returning he informed us all that my dad indeed was a combat veteran and was eligible for an honorable burial with Taps, a salute, and a flag covered casket.
My brother and the man who claims to be our half-brother left nasty messages on my voicemail, showed up at my house, went to my pastor in an attempt to get him to talk me into it, and tried in many ways to intimidate me. My sage uncle, however, told me that he and my dad had talked about it, and my dad’s wishes were to be buried at the VA. He said, “This is where you are going to show your integrity. If you stand up for your dad this whole family is going to be so proud of you. Your children need this, too. They need a place, a marker, where they can go to mourn, a place they can take their children and tell them about what he did for his country.”
Some people have thought that was a horrible amount of pressure to put on me. But, it spoke to my soul and awakened my comatose spirit. I had to prove my integrity. I had to do this for my dad. I had to do this for my children. And, just by fighting I would make my dad’s siblings proud of me. All I had to do was fight. It was a trumpet blast, a call to battle.
Daddy was laid to rest with honors at the top of a hill looking out over the sea of white crosses and over to the blue mountains beyond. I did it. I fought, and I won. And, it brought peace to my dad’s elderly siblings and my young children.
My youngest misses her papa so much that she goes through heavy periods of darkness. Darkness too deep for a child her age. Lately she’s been going through one of those phases. She has begged me to go to Heaven to get him. She has said that she wants to go be with him and then she would get to hold his hand again and she wouldn’t have to go see her own dad. My heart breaks.
For awhile today though she was happy. She laughed and ate cake. She felt close to her papa again. My uncle was right, she needed that marker to visit. My son needed that marker as a place to leave a piece of birthday cake. I pried my daughter from the smooth marble and promised that we’ll be back next Monday for Veteran’s Day. Every grave will have two flags attached to it. The display is beautiful, breathtaking. She was excited to know that she’d be back so soon, and my son expressed how lucky the people are who live in the houses around the cemetery because they can come every day if they want to.
I’m glad that my uncle encouraged me to find my integrity. My husband had buried it and covered it over with bruises and fear. Integrity isn’t about winning the fight, it’s just about showing up to it.
When I got home today that mailbox that frightens me so much did not let me down. It held to it’s promise to deliver panic. My husband submitted papers to the court last Friday to drag me back before the judge again. Certainly it is in retaliation for me requesting the bank return the money he stole. The bank withdrew those funds on Tuesday, and by Friday he decided he disagrees with what we had agreed upon last month in court.
I’ve been paralyzed by fear of the evil attorneys, the preoccupied judge, and the blank stares of the others in the courtrooms. But, I’ve seen the upside to integrity. My spirit has been awakened. I may not win, but I’m showing up to this fight armed with my integrity.