It was the word cemetery, and rows and rows of white tombstones glistening in the sun of what would have otherwise been a perfect day, that shifted the tenuous, stoic peace I held tightly to in my heart. Andre and Ashley handed back another tissue, with which I attempted to subdue those oh so familiar spasms of tears and pain. I yearned to restrain the breath-catching, arresting evidence of such grief that petrified my little girls, and caused most of my older children to feel they must be strong for me. The gentle, up shoring support some of them came alongside me with was substantive and life giving, but I wanted to provide such loving sustenance for them as well. I regained some measure of control and, even in the midst of a pandemic, the long procession snaked reservedly through the perfectly aligned and groomed memorials of heroes gone before my own. It couldn’t be that I was here, proceeding in a forward direction I so resisted going, in a cemetery where my most beloved would be laid to irrevocable, permanent rest.
So many diverse representatives of Scott’s life greeted me as I emerged from the “lead vehicle,” which I realized was so because I was in it. I was his representative now. I was his earthly receptacle of the honor, respect, and love pouring out for him by admirals, generals, Coast Guard classmates, high school friends, dear friends, pastors, teachers, beloved sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins and, most importantly, his children. I felt my spirit rise somewhat in grace and courage as I clutched the arm of the Pacific Region Coast Guard Admiral who led me to my seat, front and center, and my role as his widow. Oh how I hate that word! The ceremony was all that he so deserved, although I think his humble, servant-leader nature would have blushed. Different things touched so many that day—the words of acclamation, memory, love, and praise bestowed upon his dear name, the 21 gun salute, the bagpipes of his beloved Scottish heritage. But it was the finality of Taps that tore my sorrowful soul asunder. My oldest daughter and Scott’s oldest sister reached warm, empathetic hands to grasp mine in our mutual affliction. Tears streamed unbidden down our cheeks, caught in the previously loathed masks, now so vital. I heard the selfsame sounds of grieving wafting up from behind me and I breathed a prayer for comfort and survival for us all. The 13 folded flag was presented to me by an admiral down on one knee, his intensely meaningful eyes of solemn and sincere sympathy riveted on mine. Because of the man he was, and forevermore, will be to me.
Dear Uncle Dan escorted me solemnly from the arresting beauty of the forest that embraced the structure in which we were forcibly required to acknowledge his everlasting absence. We drive, bereft of the one who made our lives immensely richer, out of the gates over which the grandeur of Mount Rainier stands a perpetual sentinel. Into the celebration of sorts, of his life, we drive so mournfully, knowing deep in our being, that nothing will ever be the same.
I gratefully greet the other mourners who come to pay empathetic tribute from far and wide, trying to express to them how much it means to us that they have come. Their tears mingle with ours in a mutual recognition of the stellar human being we have known, respected, and loved, now so gone from us. Their heartfelt gifts, given to help sustain his widow and fatherless children, are laid before me and I am overwhelmed with gratitude. My dear Abigail, and the littlest Gordon girls cling to me, as we try to envision life without Clinton Scott Gordon. And we cry inside.
The crowds have gone and another amber sunset descends upon the memorable day, forever etched upon our hearts. The schism so deeply embedded, reinforced tonight, forever changes the tapestry of his legacy. But what remains seems to have bound the others in an impregnable kinship held together by their mutual respect for his bequest, for “Human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.” (George Washington). Honor, respect and devotion to duty was his mantra, and with all that is in me, by the power of God, I will live by it as well.
In the quietude of this pivotal night, I lay curled and impoverished on the bed. I pull a corner of the soft clement blanket to my quivering lips and let the unbidden tears flow freely. One more huge hurdle now lies imposingly before me: Thanksgiving. Is it truly, just “one more,” or will my future be littered with remnants of the devastation wrought by his home going? Nine months ago…an eternity…since I found him, leaving his earthly tent, on the kitchen floor. So many tears, so much indescribable pain have elapsed since that night, and yet it will live in my memory for as long as I remain left behind. The Grief Share group, the Loss of a Spouse group, the reams of pages from grief books so kindly slipped into my aching hands, all reassure me that all I have experienced is “normal.” Though I know their words to be true, for they have traveled this terrible road before me, I still believe my pain to be deeper, more gripping, tearing, and terminal than any others. But it is not.
It was only yesterday when I lay my head in the crux of your arm and listened to the comforting beat of your heart and felt the rise and fall of your breath. Warm and real and so very alive you were, that still I cannot fathom how you could truly have gone so suddenly. They say that those who love the deepest also grieve the deepest, and I have found that to be undeniably true. I wonder if I will ever truly and sincerely smile again. It used to bring you such joy when I smiled so profoundly that you said it reached my sapphire blue eyes and made them sparkle. I don’t see how anyone or anything else in this world could ever again bring that effervescent sparkle to my now dull blue eyes.
I write. I hike with the girls. I call to hear the voices of Abby, Austin, and Ashley almost daily. I volunteer at the animal rescue ranch, help distribute food at the food bank, listen sympathetically to all the woes and concerns of three adolescent daughters, and then retire to another lonely, tearful night, grasping desperately the empty cold sheets on your side of the bed. Bandit and Lollie, and even the new cat Archie (though he still hisses and swats at his bedfellows) curl up close to me, hoping to infuse me with their warm life and sweet, unpretentious animal love and devotion. I still ask myself, and sometime others, if I can live like this another day. And, although I seriously doubt their assurances, I store it into my arsenal of survival for the day I can use and believe it.