We went to Arlington cemetery to visit someone I love dearly. He resides there, now, right next to the visitor’s center, which he would have loved, considering how he would talk to complete strangers like they were old buddies. We only stop by a couple times a year, though. It’s hard to see it, this place. Hard to qualify the name on the stone with the person I see reflected in my own features every time I look in the mirror. It’s difficult to acknowledge the concrete truth that’s engraved along with his name and those two dates, even when I see my mom standing alone beside it.
People die. They get sick, they get old, they encounter tragedy or a fluke of timing. We’ll all have to do it. We’ll have to leave the ones we love, or be the ones left behind. It’s just how it goes. Those of us with faith in something beyond this sphere believe that it’s all temporary, but that’s sometimes hard to wrap your brain around when you’re delivering a eulogy.
Dad is gone. My children are growing. It’s strange to see the tombstone, engraved four years ago, and see the child standing beside it. To know that she was just beginning her journey as Dad ended his is more than enough symbolism for this former English teacher.
“What is this, Mommy?” Saoirse asked, rubbing her hand along the pebbles my cousin had placed along the top of the stone. She looked around her, at all the grave markers identical to this one. What she couldn’t see were the dates engraved: here, a newborn daughter of a veteran, just 16 days on this earth. There, an elderly couple, he having fought in World War II. And right behind us, a 22-year -old, killed in action in Iraq.
I looked at Saoirse, rubbed my hand over her hair. “This is a stone, honey. It’s to help us remember my dad–your granddad. He lives in heaven now.” She paused, about to ask another question, and didn’t–just let her hand drift off the stone before she skipped off to find her sister.
My grandparents are buried here, too, close to the Pentagon. As a child, it was so neat to stand there, among the rows, and watch the planes, so close, come in to land at Reagan. As a kid, I loved the connection I had to the place, as a grandchild of a serviceman, and a daughter of another.
There’s still a sense of pride there. Of the path my father took to enlist, the world he saw, the stories he told–the stories he didn’t tell, too. But. I wish he just weren’t a part of the past. My past. My daughter’s past.
People die. We come, we go. We just have to hope and work that what we leave behind was worth our having been here. My dad is with me when I chop chocolate to make a dessert for the girls. He’s there when I drive, reminding me to stay with traffic when I accelerate onto a highway. He’s the reason I sing around the house, and read around my children, and try new foods. And oddly, it was his death that started me writing again, because there is so much in my head and heart that can only be sorted out on paper.
My father would’ve had a fit that I decided to keep my maiden name after all. But you’re married, he would’ve said. You take your husband’s name, he would’ve thought. My continued use of “Ferguson” would go against everything he thought a female should traditionally do. And I probably would’ve had to defend myself coming and going for my choice, because that’s just how we worked.
I see the name on the tombstone, and it is still surreal. I am Ferguson’s daughter. He’s not here anymore. He, like those thousands and thousands, has moved on–upward, onward, I’m not exactly sure, but I better figure it out before Saoirse starts asking questions again.
I miss all that I had in common with him. I miss the conversations we had went I wasn’t so busy trying to establish myself as separate from him. And I miss seeing that grin that would break out at a sudden joke, or a funny punchline. He was always so self-conscious of his teeth. He should’nt have been.
I am Ferguson’s daughter, though I now have no father. He resides in Arlington, sort of, and beyond us, most definitely. But I have no father on this earth, and for that I am sad. People come, people go, but it makes it no easier when one of those people was someone you loved, someone who loved you, and someone who should’ve been able to stick around for just a little bit longer.
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