Saylor Lambert’s funeral was about as fancy as he wanted it. There were the flowers he wanted—daisies, because that had always been his wife’s favorite. He had the preacher he wanted, too. Not the young one that’d just taken over the Lutheran church, but Pastor Earl, the retired one who knew about the way of things.
The VFW was there, seven dignified old men in their uniforms and white gloves. They carried old rifles that cracked blank cartridges at just the right moment. It was a final salute to a hard man.
Sitting in the front row were the last of Saylor’s family—twins Brett and Harper, and their wives and children. To see them was to gain a glimpse into their thoughts.
For Harper, the shine of the day’s sun was not enough to lift the darkness that surrounded him. He spent the service slumped forward in his chair and refused to look at the casket that held his father’s bones. He did not gaze skyward, he merely kept his eyes on the cold ground at his feet. When the shots rang out, he recoiled. Most would say his reaction was understandable. Saylor’s yelling was often likened to the sound of a gun going off.
For his part, Harper’s twin brother was the opposite. Brett Lambert sat with a posture that was both straight and sure, his eyes halfway between the casket where the shell of his father lay and the sky the soul of his father now resided. Brett nodded as the preacher spoke of his father’s life and even laughed when everyone was reminded of how difficult old Saylor could be. He smiled when the shots rang out.
Two brothers who had lost their father. Both would say they were raised in a way that wouldn’t be described as harsh. They always had food to eat and clothes to wear. But theirs was an unloving household of impossible expectations and painful consequences when those expectations went unmet. It was their mother who held the family together. When she passed, Saylor became distant. More demanding, more angry. He never hit his boys, but that didn’t matter. Language can do as much harm as fists. Maybe more.
Both Brett and Harper would count among their greatest days their high school graduation. Not simply because new life that awaited them, but because it meant they could leave the house and never return.
That’s exactly what they did.
When word came Saylor was dying, neither knew exactly what to do. Brett leaned toward going to his father’s side, but Harper was adamant. He would not go. He couldn’t. To him, hurts could pile up such that it blocked whatever light there was to shine. Harper had a good life. He preferred to look toward the future rather than dredging up the past.
Brett went. Harper stayed. That was why those two twins could not look more different that day.
Brett would be the first to tell you it was a difficult reunion. So much hurt and resentment. So many wounds that had never healed. But there at the hospital bed, Brett found the love he believed his father had taken.
Saylor found what many do. Death has a way of clarifying things. It stalks us and finds us and places before us a mirror through which we see our truest reflection. It displays the contours of our lives, every gulley and hill, not so we may regret, but so we may smooth them while there’s time.
That’s what Saylor and Brett did for two days. They smoothed. They hugged and laughed and cried. They said they were sorry. They said I love you.
And then Saylor was gone.
I think of that story often. I haven’t seen Brett or Harper since that funeral, but I hear they’re well. Happy. The only difference they show is their reaction every time their father’s name is mentioned.
Me, I suppose I can’t blame Harper for not seeing his father one last time. I can’t imagine having a father like that, but I know well what it’s like to have a mountain of hurts block out whatever light is there to shine.
I’ve found, though, that living life at the hospital bed chips away at that mountain. I try not to let the things that need to be said go unsaid. I’m quick with I’m sorry, quicker with I love you. I hug and laugh and cry. I try to smooth over those gullies and hills.
Because there is plenty of time for many things, but not for those.