Thursday, March 1, 2012

Matters of death, and life

   What a week this has been, the grieving and acceptance of the death of a beloved brother and brother-in-law one day, the joy of the birth of a family member the next day.
    On Monday, we drove four hours to southwest Texas -- to the Stoneham community -- for the funeral and burial of Howard Clinton Shaw Jr., who passed away Feb. 23 one week short of his 65th birthday.
    It was a sad occasion; personally, the tears came often Monday.
     On Tuesday, the word came out of Portland, Ore. -- the arrival of Max Joseph Wellen, my younger sister's first grandchild, my parents' fourth great grandchild. Happy day.
Taking Howard and the tagged casket to the final resting place.
    Happy, except I couldn't get Howard's voice out of my head that day. Back in our apartment in Fort Worth, where he had spent three days visiting with us last May, I could feel his presence all day.
     When we had arrived at his and Nance's house the day before, the loss was palpable. This was the house he had built himself, and had renovated, and had added on; he built a garage and apartment behind the main house; he had worked the land; and he had built the wraparound deck and the patio in the past couple of years.
      Going into the house, there was an abundance of food -- much supplied by the community in that Navasota/Hempstead/Stoneham area -- and an abundance of family.
      The family had held a rosary on Sunday night; we couldn't make that. It had been emotional, and there was some carryover. But the full effect of the emotions didn't hit us until we arrived at the church.
    St. Joseph's Catholic is a quaint building deep in an area with acres and acres of scorched land after last summer's wildfires. The 10-minute drive from the house to the church brought back last summer's scare when Howard and Nance twice had to abandon their house as the fires drew near.
     Beatrice, two years older than Howard (there are two younger sisters), had remained composed through the days since we learned of his death. But the sight of an open casket and four of Howard's daughters -- there were seven kids --  tearfully sitting at the edge of that casket was difficult.
     I had to turn away as Bea sobbed into an equally tearful Theresa's shoulder.
     "I had been dealing with this possibility [Howard's death] for a year," Bea said today. "I had been preparing for it. But to walk in and see where his kids were, to see their pain, it was overwhelming."
      But those kids -- those lively, loud, close-knit kids -- gave their dad a "tagged" casket. People were invited to write their final message to Howard on that casket, or draw a picture (as his  grandkids did). It was quite something.
      The ceremony in the church was beautiful. So was the graveside ceremony, just a hundred yards from the church. It included the Jewish tradition of people shoveling dirt on the lowered casket -- something Nance and Howard had first seen at my dad's funeral.
Max, with daddy Adam.
     It was difficult to say good-bye. But we all felt that we had honored Howard's life and his influence on all of us in the proper manner.
    And then it was on to the next day. Bea awakened me with the news, "The baby is here!" 
    Max, whose parents are my nephew Adam Wellen (Elsa and Jim's oldest) and his wife Tania, weighed in at a hefty 9 pounds and 5 ounces. He was born 11 days past his due date. 
    We were eager to see the photos and it took a while, but there he was, and the smile on his proud daddy's face was like the baby, a beautiful sight.
    Max is nice and round, like Howard had been.
     We're going to miss those bear hugs from Howard, but we are looking forward to holding little Max in a couple of months at his uncle Josh's wedding in Baton Rouge.
    "One soul out, one soul in" is the way Bea described it. How true.
    What a week it has been.

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