Sunday, December 19, 2010

Final word on the subject

I have delivered eulogies in churches and funeral homes. I've attended too many services and burials, a hazard of aging.

I have never officiated at a memorial service on a softball field. As I think of it now, almost a week later, I realize it may have been one of the most spiritual memorials I've ever attended.

My brother Pat was remembered at a memorial at home plate of softball field number three in Fred Lee Park in Palm Bay, Fla. It was Monday, Dec. 13. The park was deserted when we arrived. Not much softball is played in December, not even in central Florida.

Pat's wishes were clear. Cremate his body. No church service. No ministers or priests. No prayers. This former altar boy and product of Catholic schools had soured on religion. He and I had many talks over the years about fundamentalist Christian crazies. We also discussed the depredations of the Catholic Church. He was tougher on the church than I was. I stayed in it longer than he did. In the end, we both agreed that it wasn't worth it.

The congregation, if you choose to call it that, sat in the metal softball stands. Pat was a coach so he was in the dugout most of the time. When attending a game, he crouched in the grass outside the fence on the third base line. He didn't like the behavior of some parents. They yelled at the refs and kids on the opposing teams. Pat hated this kind of low-rent behavior. He had a temper, and he wasn't above contesting a bad call. But he loved his daughters and he liked the girls they played with. He didn't think it was right for big burly men to yell at skinny twelve-year-old girls playing a game.

On this day at the softball field, the only voice for awhile was my own. And then Pat's daughters Maggie and Erin read their own eulogies, the cool north wind attempting to snatch their words away. Pat's friend, Coach Bill, spoke about their days on ball diamonds all over Florida. Coach Bill's daughter, one of Pat's former players, spoke. Then Roger Ross spoke. Roger was our neighbor in Daytona Beach. Pat helped him land a job as engineer at the Harris Corp. Rounding out the speakers was Pat's nephew, Ryan Shay. Ryan's a communications major at University of North Florida and it was clear he knows how to communicate.

Pat's four years in the Air Force led to his long career at the Harris Corp. The memorial ended with the folding of the flag and Taps, performed by the honor guard from nearby Patrick AFB. The bugler's notes lingered in the air as the folded flag was handed over to Pat's widow, Jean.

We then traveled to Pat and Jean's house for the wake with family and friends. We told stories around the bonfire.

These remembrances that I've posted over the past week are my way of mourning. I'm a writer. How will I know how I feel if I don't write it down? Someone famous once said that.  

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