To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.
I stood and stared at the box. I was alone. All the relatives, guests and friends had left after the service. The room was quiet except for the almost imperceptible recorded tones of funeral music. I stood several feet away from the box, in the center of the room. I took three steps backwards and sat in one of the empty folding chairs. I continued to gaze at the box. I had asked the funeral director if I could have the room to myself for a few minutes to gather my thoughts.
The box, golden hued, had only a few words printed on one side:
Daniel Charles Egan
March 1, 1945 – December 26, 2019
Inside the box were the cremains of my brother…my last brother. I began to wonder which Dan I was thinking about. Was this the teenager that took apart a ’57 Ford in the backyard and after honing the cylinders, put the entire thing back together. (He had two bolts left over when he finished.) Was this the guy who used-up most of my Brylcreem on his curly hair before a sock hop at Owego Free Academy?
Or was this the boy that swam away hours at Brown’s Tract Pond when we went family camping each summer in the Adirondacks?
Was his the hand behind the wickedly fast snowball that nearly took my ear off, or maybe the future boat maker who turned down an offer of $11,000 for his hand-crafted Adirondack Guide Boat?
Was this the reader who was fascinated by the history of the Mohawk Valley, who collected Native American sinker stones or flint chips of arrowheads?
It occurred to me that in that box were the remains of a great many Dan Egans.
But not all of Dan’s existence consisted of possessing skills (he was a licensed pilot) and knowledge. Early in the 1990’s life began to take on a downward spiral. His only daughter died tragically.
This was quickly followed by the passing of our mother which was shortly before our eldest brother, Chris died. In the late ’90’s and into the next century Dan survived cancer only to lose the battle in 2019.
All that was left of my last brother was inside that box.
Now, as the years pass, more and more of his friends have died. He survived (barely) Viet Nam and was still being handed a piece of Viet Cong shrapnel that the surgeons found every time he had a hip replacement.
So, that’s the end of the life of my brother.
Or is it?
Many years ago I read the perspective of the Native American view on death. To them, it’s all about stories. As long as someone is spoken about after death, then they never really have died. The memory of someone lives on into the future…as long as there is a story to tell or a song to sing about that person. As Dan’s story is told, he’s not in any box. He’s sitting next to me, alive as he could be. Dan’s memory will fade in our hearts over time…but he’ll remain part of the living world.
I know it’s my turn next, but I have children and they will have children and they will carry Dan’s story with them. They will know Dan through the tales I will tell. One could say that it’s only a box with some ashes but the story doesn’t end there.
Go ahead, speak of the departed…but tell the listener to speak with loving generosity.