I went to a funeral today.
My friend's husband passed on Monday, after a long and painful inch-by-inch death from cancer.
The family is wrung out completely...physically, emotionally and spiritually.
His wife, their 5 daughters, their grandchildren and a beautiful little great-grandchild were present. He was a well-loved husband, father, brother, grandfather, great-grandfather...his family crafted a lovingly-presented tribute to him today.
We gathered together in our community hall.
We were each given a red Remembrance Day Legion poppy to wear, in honour of Ken's years of military service.
Our mayor's husband piped in the Royal Canadian Legion Honour Guard Colour Party, followed by one of our local RCMP detachment members dressed in traditional red serge, then the fire department in full dress uniform and a number of Legion members in uniform. The longest-serving Legion member carried an oak urn, bearing a scarlet poppy inlaid in the front of the wood. He set it down carefully and respectfully in the center of the array of Ken's military treasures, displayed on the table at the front of the hall.
As the Legion Colour Party and family members approached the front of the hall, one by one they gently set their brilliant scarlet poppies on the oak urn. Soon, a brilliant scarlet heap of poppies covered the urn, spilling over onto the white cloth underneath.
You see, Ken was a soldier.
He was in active military service for many years, a national award-winning sharpshooter, he served in several war zones around the world. When he was away, his wife raised their 5 daughters mostly on her own. Their family sacrificed so much when he was out there protecting all of us and our way of life in this country and in this world.
As the family took turns speaking about their loved one and his military service, it became crystal-clear to me that Ken's years of soldiering are now being repeated by other young husbands and fathers, serving in Afghanistan, Iraq and other Middle East postings. I found it so ironic...we are celebrating the life of a good soldier, and there are other good soldiers in other countries, still fighting...
What, then, has changed?
Since Ken enlisted, is the world very different at all?
Our soldiers are still fighting the same enemies that his battalion faced in the '50's and 60's. The names and faces may have changed, but the enemy remains much the same, I think. A few days ago, I heard of three more Canadian soldiers dying in Afghanistan...victims of a hidden roadside bomb. Three more families who have lost sons, fathers, husbands, brothers. I wonder what it will take so that no other family loses someone they love with all their hearts...
As the service came to an end, the family invited everyone to join them at the back of the hall, where several family friends were uncorking bottle after bottle of good champagne! Pouring the liquid sunshine into glasses, they asked us to help ourselves. Then, we gathered in a huge circle around the hall, as the youngest daughter invited us to join in a toast to her father.
Everyone raised their glass of bubbly and shouted, "To KEN!" We drank every drop, and then laughed out loud as his youngest daughter tipped a bottle of beer to her lips! She made a huge face, then explained to us that the beer was a tribute to her dad, because he loved his beer ever so much better than any champagne!
I'm home now.
I have good food to eat and a warm bed to crawl into later on.
I think about how more of our soldiers are preparing to go overseas to help the Afghani people. I think also about my friend's family tonight, missing their loved one, a soldier also.
I feel such gratitude for their courage and conviction, their devotion to serving their country.
Soldiers then...soldiers now. God bless 'em, one and all.