I Do, But I Don't

I Do, But I Don't

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Memorial Day Memory 1 - "Red"

Most of you reading already know that I lost my mother when I was 14.  She was 33 and the cancer that eventually killed her ravaged her body.  But it wasn't a quick and painless death, it was long, slow and agonizing.  Hospice was involved and they were clearly a God-send for us.  So much so that after I joined the United States Navy, I felt it incumbent upon myself to "give back," to become a Hospice counselor myself.

Ironically - or rather through Divine providence - the gentleman handling the class was the Chaplain who worked on my mother's case some ten years prior.

My first case was that of a man called "Red."  He was dying from lung and larynx cancer, unable to truly communicate his pain, his emotions or even tell his lovely bride what was on his mind.  He had no verbal communication skills whatsoever as I recall.

He was a World War II Navy hero.   He had served honorably, received numerous commendations and medals of which he was very proud.  Red, though his verbal abilities were gone, still had a way about him.  As I spent time with him and his lovely though heart-broken family, Red would show me photographs of him during his time of service.  A gleam would appear in his eyes, a slight smile would cross his face and he would give me that "knowing glance," as though there was some unique bond we shared as "shipmates."  I showed him my Shellback card (certification of crossing the equator) and his eyes glistened. 

He couldn't speak because of the cancer, but the photographs of his shipmates, the way he ran his weathered fingers across them made me tear up.   Red often had a tear in his eyes as well.

When he passed, his family asked me to be a pall bearer at the funeral as well as being honored with presenting him with the flag that draped his coffin.  It was tough for his family to see Red go, but we knew in our hearts he no longer had pain and would be joining his shipmates on the other side.

Every Memorial Day, I remember Red and his wry smile, his calm demeanor though his body was ravaged by cancer.  Someday, Lord willing, I'll again see him and thank him for his service once again.