When my sister, Gretchen, died in a fire, the family immediately gathered in Springfield, Missouri. Since I had just received a new certification as a reverend, I was the designated moderator of the memorial.
The night before the service, my dad came into my hotel room and said, “Steph, there’s something I want you to read. You know I don’t ask for much but I’m asking for this.” He pulled out his wallet and thumbed through decades of precious little pieces of soiled papers, unfolding, reading and folding them back up. I never saw him as an old man until that moment, slow and broken because his youngest went before him. Finally, he came to THE one. “They read this at my friend’s funeral, Steph, and I want you to read it tomorrow. And don’t argue with me” He handed me the faded limp text, I took it from him, squinted at the type, and unbeknownst to either of us, it was the same poem I had brought with me to read.
Once again, it’s time to read it, this time for my dad, Sol Urdang:
June 21,1923 – July 19, 2013
Poem. The Ship, by Charles Henry Brent
What is dying?
I am standing on the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her
until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle
with each other.
Then someone at my side says: ‘There! She’s gone.’
Gone where? Gone from my sight that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she
was when she left my side,
and just as able to bear her load of living
freight to the place of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her;
and just at the moment when someone at my side says:
‘There! She’s gone,’
there are others watching her coming,
and voices ready to take up the glad shout
‘There she comes!’
And that is dying.
May Dad’s journey be met with loving arms.
I’d like to think the woman in the red dress that Dad saw on his ceiling Thursday night was Gretchen, waiting for him, as he began to sail to the other side.