Sunday, August 14, 2011
Somebody else made the decision in each case to bury them. I myself will have my body cremated and leave nothing but ashes behind, hopefully to be scattered in some beautiful place. But it won't matter much to me in any event. It's those of us left behind that it matters to. Silvia, Chris' wife, wanted him buried in her cemetery so she could visit him, and that's fine. Everyone has different ways to commemorate those who have passed on before us.
When Chris died in 2002, I remember waking up that morning and thinking it was a special day somehow, but I didn't remember why, at first. By the time the day was over, and I was making arrangements to travel to Germany, I remembered that it was also Stephen's birthday and I had forgotten. Today the anniversary of those events does not escape my notice. But I didn't set out this morning to grieve, but to celebrate the full life my son Chris had accomplished by the time he had turned forty.
People die prematurely all the time, and in the old days, forty was not so premature. Chris had lots of gray in his hair and although he had not produced any children, it was not for want of trying. I think he really would have been a good father; he was very close to his stepson, Silvia's son from a previous marriage. I am not close to him and only met him during my stay in Bamberg for Chris' memorial service. Silvia is German and her English at the best of times is not good. We are Facebook friends and that is enough for me these days.
Chris worked in the mail room on the Army base and so many people told me of his generous spirit and quick laughter. I remember when he was a young boy that he was fiercely independent. When I would read to him, it was for me and not for him, since he would allow me to read to him but didn't care if I did or not. And forget hugs and kisses! But we would share many things and I remember laughing together at things long forgotten. But I still remember the affection and laughter.
He was a pretty good student. That changed as he grew older and lost interest in academics, but I am grateful that he never experienced the kind of bullying that seems rampant in elementary schools today. Although he was influenced by his peers and took up drugs in high school, it was his habit of smoking that I believe killed him. He tried so many times to quit, and finally managed to give up cigarettes completely a few months before he died. He was so proud of his accomplishment and we emailed back and forth about his struggles and progress.
He had been given a three-month temporary assignment in Macedonia, and he was away from his wife and stepson when he died. His roommate in their quarters told me of Chris' enjoyment of coming into the air-conditioned comfort of his room after a hot day outside, when he would quaff a beer and sit in his skivvies, making everybody laugh at his satisfaction of a job well done, the day's work finished.
Chris would call me twice a year, on his birthday and on Mother's Day. He would tell me of his latest trials and tribulations, but he seemed really happy most of the time, and that was confirmed when I went to Germany. He was not only well liked by his friends and loved by his family, but he loved the Army, and he wanted very much to stay in the service.
I was astounded to learn that he was also known by his friends and acquaintances as a very accurate palm reader and would tell the future that appeared to him in the lines of people's hands. When he developed this interest, I have no idea. But it reminded me that Chris had a second sense about people; he would make instant likes and dislikes to those he met. I had no doubt that he loved humanity and especially his mother. His relationship with his father was a good one, too.
Although I didn't want to talk to Derald (his father) and didn't for years, unless it had something to do with Chris, he kept pushing me to call Derald and talk with him. His desire to have us reconciled was something he never gave up on, and one day, sometime in the 1980s I guess, I called Derald and we talked on the phone for hours. We healed old wounds and spent time forgiving each other for our youthful mistakes. I knew after that phone call that Chris was responsible for removing our old painful memories and replacing them with good ones. Not long after that phone call, Derald died suddenly. He was only 51, and his son Chris would die of the same thing: sudden cardiac death.
Chris has been gone for nine years now, and I didn't see him in person during the last four years of his life, but he lives on in my memories, and I'm sure also in the memories of many others who knew and loved him. The infant I held in my arms almost fifty years ago grew into a very special person who made a difference in the world. Chris, I love you, I will always love you until the day I die.
And then, if there is life after death, we will meet again and I'll join you over a cup of coffee and we'll tell stories of our adventures since we were last together on Earth.