As I walked through the doors of the funeral home. I took a deep breath and steeled my emotions. The reception doors were already open and I could see his casket. We walk into the room and I sighed in relief to see that he looked so good. I was so worried about that. I was also surprised to see so many flowers in the room and took a moment to read each card. I noticed that his helmet was not where I had asked it to be placed and the other items were not on display either. I just got so angry and immediately went looking for the director or an assistant. I calmly explained that I needed a table and for them to find the items I had dropped off the day prior with specific instructions.
They moved a table for me and I set up his memorial table with his picture, poem, helmet, bandana, flowers and a wooden plaque to be signed.
By this time, his mom and sister had left the viewing room and I took some alone time with him. I talked to him and put a letter in the casket. I had the funeral director help me to put in his ear gauges and to drape a flag across the end of the casket. To me, the flag needed to be on there at all times. I knew his veteran buddies would be asking where the flag was if it wasn’t there.
I started to watch the slideshow they had prepared with the pictures and music we had provided when I heard the sound of rumbling and the pack of riders rolled into the parking lot. I lost control of my emotions as the number of riders took my breath away. I had asked them to wear a bandana in his honor and each rider or passenger had them on.
The Patriot Guard had also taken their place at the entrance. A flag for the Army, Navy, Old Glory on either side. I thanked each person standing at attention, holding the flags and opening the doors for the people coming in.
It was such a beautiful tribute.
I took Neal into the viewing room and shut the door to give us privacy before everyone else came in like he requested and I just stood next to him as he said goodbye.
The viewing officially started and his family and I took our places in the viewing room and people came to pay respect. I didn’t know how to reply to people and could only thank them for coming.
A few of his friends requested to place items in the casket and I said that it would be just fine.
It felt like the worlds longest hour.
I could hear the music from the slideshow and it made me smile that I was able to include/sneak a Five Finger Death Punch song in.
Finally the service was to begin so they closed his casket, draped the flag and had everyone go in and sit. I told our closest friends to sit in the reserved family section since they are my family. His mom told me that she told the honor guard to give me the flag and it completely took me by surprise. Normally it’s only given to a spouse, if not then the next of kin. It was very humbling and I can never express how thankful I am to her for showing me that kindness. We had a final meeting and prayer before we went in.
The chapel was packed…..
The first preacher spoke and I appreciated his message since he knew Frank as a child. The message was religious but respectful I felt. Frank was not overly religious in general. Next, the song “When I get where I’m going” by Brad Paisley played. It’s a beautiful song that was played at his dad’s service only 5 years ago and was requested by his mom. Then Neal went up and said a brief message before he read the note that I had written. He did beautifully and read it just like I wrote it. Cuss words and all. A second preacher closed out the service with I thought, an overly long sermon style message that didn’t really make sense but it was fine. We are in the south so I tried not to let it bother me.
I thought I was doing pretty well. His service was almost complete and I was holding it together. Until the first notes of Taps rang out…
I have always choked up when it played but as it played for the man that I loved, I couldn’t stop the sob from escaping and echoing in the chapel.
The heart breaking, beautiful melody sang in the air and as it ended, the Army Reservists in full dress proceeded to lift and fold his flag. I have folded the flag many times in the service, whenever I had flag detail and had to lower the flag at sunset. But I had never seen it folded at a funeral service and I knew that those poor kids were nervous with a chapel full of bikers watching their every move.
As the young man approached me and took a knee. I just looked at his sweet face, so young and innocent. He handed me the flag and repeated the words that I never expected to hear. “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service”. I could only manage to say thank you and held it close to me as we walked out of the chapel to start the receiving line.
I placed Old Glory next to his helmet so I could embrace each and every person, one last time and thank them for honoring Frank.
That night, a majority of friends came over to swap stories, drink a beer or two and just be together. I gave a select few a poker chip from Frank’s collection, so they could keep a small part of him close to them.
Our friend Dave and I stood close to the fire. Watching the flames dance, I put my arm around his waist and he leaned into me.
He tells me that he will build me a shadow box for the flag but it may take him awhile. I tell him not to stress about it and I appreciated him wanting to do that for me.
At the end of the night, I carry his flag upstairs with me. I didn’t like the idea of it downstairs, so far from me.
I placed it next to me in bed, turned to hold it close to me and the tears started to flow. The rough canvas scratches me and surprised me. For some reason I had it in my head that it would be soft against my cheek and it made me think about Old Glory.
It is designed to take the roughest weather, to have the scorching sun beat down upon it. It has been in war zones, carried into battle, travels the world with our military men and women. Why would it be soft? It has to be able to withstand everything that this world throws at it.
Only the strongest material could withstand all that…..
I decided in that instant that I didn’t like the idea of putting it in a shadow box. To be placed on display and gather dust. To me, Old Glory is an extension of Frank. It was the last thing to cover him and I feel closer to him when I hold it close to me.
A few days later, I held it close, cried and talked to him as I flipped through the catalog of Urns that the funeral home gave us. Trying to pick out the best tribute for him. I decide on a bio-degradable salt sphere that I can put in the ocean and it will dissolve. I also get a glass sphere that mixes a small amount of his ashes with colors to make a beautiful swirl pattern. It will be about the size of a golf ball and I will carry him with me on the rest of my adventures.
I still continue to hold on to Glory each and every night. Luckily sleep has been a friend to me. Silent, dreamless, black. It’s when I open my eyes and that first ache of remembering kicks in.
A day may come when I don’t need to have his flag so close to me but for now it will stay in my bed. Watching over me.