Dear Papa,

Earlier this afternoon your extended friends, family, and friends who’ve become family attended your funeral at St. Mary’s Church. It still does not feel quite real that you’re gone, but we are all coming to terms with your passing in different ways. For me this was the first time I’ve truly dealt with loss in an immediate, tangible way — I’ve been extraordinarily lucky enough to avoid death’s icy doorstep thus far in my life, but I suppose it is a reality of life that must inevitably confront us all.

With you now gone, we all continue our lives as better people for having known you. Your influence resides within us all, forever steering and guiding our lives in ways ineffable to anyone. I continue your spirit in my actions and also etched within my very genetics; photo boards of you included pictures from your 20s, pictures everyone said bear startling resemblance to me! I consider this an honor of the highest degree. I think the pictures, mannerisms, and dress of yesteryear are just simply cool. I keep with me at school one of your bottle openers, a few of your special coins, your mother’s afghans (blankets, for those apparently born anytime after about 1980), the “March of the Penguins” video we always used to watch together, and your old JCPenny radio. Every morning before I go to class, I think of you as I drink coffee and listen to jazz music from that radio.

As I sat outside my mom’s backdoor this morning before your funeral, I listened to the birds sing their songs. The finches, blackbirds, and doves argued with each other over who got the good food straight from the feeder, and who got the used scraps on the ground. Suddenly a fiery red bird shimmering in the morning sunlight appeared among the dull grey-brown bunch that surrounded the feeder. The cardinal’s wings seemed to ignite like dry tinder fueled by the sunlight streaming through the maple leaves. He paused for a moment while rummaging through the hollow safflower casings to lock eyes with me for a brief moment. His radiant black eyes seemed to take in everything. Cardinals, my mom tells me, are representative of a recently-deceased loved one coming back to visit. As I’d never before seen a cardinal at my mom’s bird feeder, I like to think that you, finally one with the natural world you’d loved so.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever read any poems by Mary Elizabeth Frye, but she wrote one of my favorites: “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep”. If you never read it, I think you’d like it. It reads:

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft star that shines at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;

I am not there; I did not die.

I love and miss you more than anything, Papa. You’ve inspired my love of countless things in life and though you are no longer with me to experience them, I know you’re always watching.~

Love, now, and always,

Ben

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