Friday, August 14, 2009

Going and coming home

Back in Maine - two weeks ago tomorrow we got a phone call from my brother saying it seemed to be time for the family to assemble; an hour later he called again, saying it was too late. My father had just died.

I flew out early on Sunday morning. My parents now lived in the same city where I was born. Their first stay had been short, just two years; their second followed Dad's retirement so they could be near my brother's family as his kids grew up; their third, after some years in Maine to be near my growing children, started five years ago. If you add up all the pieces, it might have been as close to home as they got in their transient life.

We had been expecting the call for more than three years, ever since he was diagnosed with cancer. He fought hard, determined to last through their 60th wedding anniversary celebration in June. Then he got a respiratory virus of some sort, and stopped fighting.

At the funeral, a number of people came up to me and said they were his student, or the daughter of his student, or served on his school board, or had baby-sat me (!!!). They had all stayed in the same city for the last 60 years, same church, same friends, same God. They were sure, as my parents were, that dying was like coming home.

Like eternity, time meant little last week. My father's two brothers, and a cousin I had not seen in 40 years, all of whom have lived in the same area all their lives, drove a thousand miles from South Dakota, stayed overnight and attended the funeral service in the morning, drove a thousand miles back. They had done the right thing, and were anxious to get back. My mother scarcely knew what day it was; but she knew she would not move again. My brothers and I re-lived the moves we had made from home to home across three states and the province of Ontario, and gained no further wisdom. I read novels, looked at all the scrapbooks, played Scrabble, was restless in the night.

Home seemed to be portable in our family. Then my own family arrived and I was instantly wrong. Their faces were like the sun rising in the east, promising love and a new day and pangs for the home we had made. We drove back east on Tuesday, returning to Boston and then to Maine, where our sense of home is as strong as any Christian's for his heaven.

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