Randy Earns a 21-Gun Salute and A Gravesite
By Bernadette A. Moyer
There is no colder place than the top of a Pennsylvania hilltop on a February day when a man is put to rest in his final destination. Randy earns a 21-gun salute on the same day that he earned a gravesite. No one saw it coming; there was nothing that led me to believe that the only man I knew as my husband and as our daughter’s father would die at just 37 years old. I was so young and so ill prepared at just 23 years of age with a 2 year old baby girl.
I sat there in my black dress with my knees uncontrollably shaking and trying to make sense of where I was and what was happening. I now owned a new title as “widow” and in the past few days that lead up to this gravesite moment I would be pelted with questions that I literally didn’t comprehend.
Questions like; Do you want a “casket spray” they asked? Who do you want in the first car with you? Do you have someone to take you to say your final goodbyes? Could you bring his suit and he will need full under garments? Can you sign this? You will have him buried in Pennsylvania won’t you? How many viewings would you like? Has the military been notified? Who is handling the church service? Do you have anyone for the eulogy?
“His flight is on Eastern Airlines, we will meet the body but you need to come and identify it?” Of course I would come and identify his body. Maybe it wasn’t him. Maybe this was wrong, it sure didn't feel right. We just spoke the night before on the phone. He was alive then and now he is dead. It was the first time I ever touched a dead cold body and yes it was him. I pulled at the sheets and nothing prepared me for what I witnessed. Because he was so young and died alone and in Texas, they had automatically preformed an autopsy. I was stunned by all the marks and the stitches and that coldness. He was gone. The man that I knew and had married was now deceased.
My head was swimming I couldn’t eat or drink I wanted to throw up. Randy is dead. Randy died. I kept telling myself over and over again. How on earth did this happen.
I sat there at the gravesite on that cold February day as I watched every last person say their goodbyes. When I heard the shots, three rounds of seven I was aware that his “brothers” from the military were there. Each round of shots pierced my heart deeper and deeper. I could barely breathe. Then the funeral director approached me and asked, “Do you want to stay for the lowering of the casket?” I didn’t even think when I responded with “yes!” I wasn’t leaving until it was over. I knew that Randy would never have left me until the very end and I was staying there. I was staying there for him.
They folded the flag that had draped his casket and they presented it to me saying, "On behalf of the President ... " and then I went blank, I heard nothing.
But when I saw that coffin lowered into the ground any composure I had was completely gone. This is how it ends, I thought. This is how it ends in the dirt and in the ground. My sobs escaped like a bomb that had been detonated. Those gut wrenching sobs when you can’t catch your breath and your body has succumbed to the rawness of pure unfiltered grief.
Moments later I felt two men one on each side as they picked me up from under my arms and lifted me away. It was my father and his best friend Claude who came to save me. They literally carried me to the first car.
It has been 30 years now and yet I remember it all so clearly. I go to that site at least once a year. I leave things there. I leave flowers, prayer cards, rosaries and pictures of our daughter. I know that he isn’t there, not really but for me, that gravesite is his memorial place, and the only place I know where to go to pay my respects.
And so I go there, I go there to that grave. Because I know that he would have gone there for me and no matter what has transpired in my life since his departure, I was his widow, I was and always will be his widow at that gravesite on that cold February day when he earned a 21-gun salute and a gravesite.