A Promise Fulfilled
On June 23, 2017, I attended the funeral of my friend in Rogersville, Tennessee. Our friendship dated back to 1959. He was a decorated WW II combat veteran, with a designated grave in Arlington National Cemetery.
In 2002, he changed his mind about his burial site, choosing instead to be buried in Rogersville, the place of his birth. The remains of his son, Kevin, rested in his father’s designated grave. My friend asked me to process the relinquishment of his grave in Arlington National Cemetery, to arrange the exhumation and storage of Kevin’s remains in Rogersville, so that they would eventually be buried together.
We stood together in the National Cemetery at approximately 9 a.m., as the machine operator sought to recover the remains of a child of only 5 months of age; not buried in a vault, after 50 years. On the second dig the funeral director detected the different colored soil and, using a shiny spade for the occasion, scooped up Kevin’s remains, affirmed by a small plastic medallion of an angel attached to a piece of lace — after 50 years. He put the remains in a nice coffin, neatly and delicately covered them with a lace blanket and said, “I’ll take Kevin to his new home.” My friend then turned to me and asked, “I want your promise that if you outlive me, you will bury Kevin with me in Rogersville.” I promised.
The funeral director who performed the exhumation drove directly from Arlington National Cemetery to the airport and put Kevin on a private plane for the ride to Rogersville. Sometime around 4 p.m., I received a call from the funeral home in Rogersville that Kevin had arrived.
Approximately seven years before my friend died something happened with the funeral home ownership and Kevin was dislocated. My efforts to locate him, including contacting every funeral home in the area, was fruitless. I reaffirmed that I would not stop looking for Kevin and bury him with his father.
Two days before my friend’s funeral, his daughter and granddaughter, who had so carefully and lovingly taken care of him during his final years, arrived in Rogersville to make funeral arrangements. As the daughter spoke with the funeral director, she expressed her disappointment that Kevin would not be buried with his father. The funeral director asked, “Who did you say?” After her repeat he said, “I think I know where Kevin is.”
When Kevin’s remains arrived at the funeral home in Rogersville in 2002, they were simply stored with the name KEVIN on the outside container. Inside the transporting container from the funeral home in Washington, DC, there was a complete description: Kevin’s name, father’s name, my name for alternate notification, date and place of exhumation and transport to Tennessee.
But the funeral home where Kevin’s remains were delivered was no longer in business, without notice to his father or me. My friend’s burial arrangements were performed by a different funeral home. Luckily, the director of the new funeral home was a former employee of that closed business, and as he helped transport the vault contents of the closed business to storage in another town, he remembered seeing the name KEVIN.
When I arrived in Rogersville the funeral director greeted me and asked if I am the attorney who made frequent calls to the former funeral home and tirelessly sought to find the remains of a child? Then, he put his hand on my shoulder and announced, “Kevin is with his father.” And he told me the story. I almost collapsed, as I turned and wiped my tears.
It was the final mention of Kevin, by his sister, that set-in motion the fulfillment of her father’s desire, and my promise.
God works in mysterious ways.
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Good memories are treasures that we horde for ourselves.
Sometimes they are the only currency that can buy peace of mind.
They give us safe passage to where we were once content.
Good memories are not exhausted by time.
James Edward Alexander
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