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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Hurricane Sandy, Part 4: The Saddest Goodbye I Could Imagine

I am writing these short vignettes before I get to the meat and potatoes of my Superstorm Sandy experience simply as a way to document my experiences. Some of you may find all of this interesting and some of you may find this self-serving. Either way is fine with me, but I feel the documentation of even the small things are important parts of the story.

The week before the storm hit, I got word that my father's brother has passed away. Ken crossed the Atlantic a dozen or more times as a Navy gunner on a Liberty Ship during World War II, before sailing to the South Pacific on the same ship. While driving to his viewing on Sunday night the thought occurred to me that regardless of the weather to come, he had been through worse.

His funeral was scheduled for Monday morning at 9:00AM, and by the mid-point of his viewing it was announced that the funeral would be moved to Wednesday.

On Wednesday we got cleaned up as best we could and got ready to make the 20 mile trip east to Brick, NJ, for the Mass. Roads were still pretty much impassable most of the way, and in fact we saw exactly one working traffic light during the trip. As a matter of reference, keep in mind that we are talking about Central New Jersey here, even with taking the Interstate for a portion of the trip, our route took us through approximately fifteen traffic signals. The one that was working was a blinking light at a four-way stop a block from our house.

Once we got to the town the church was in we found each crossing of the major artery tough the town blocked by either police or parked school buses which were being used to close off dangerous intersections. We wound up having to take an eight mile detour back west again to find a place to cross the highway and arrived at the church as the family was leaving for the cemetery. Sadly, it was just impossible for people to make the service as a great deal of the family lived farther away than we did, so the many nieces and nephews, relatives and friends who loved this man so much were unable to say goodbye. My wife and I felt a bit like privileged guests as we joined his wife, five children and his grandchildren as they said goodbye.

The funeral procession from the church to the veteran's cemetery, thirty miles away, was basically a mad scramble of blocking traffic to allow people to cross closed highways and dodging downed poles and trees. It was impossible to travel together, and in fact after making a brief pit stop, we passed the hearse on the Interstate halfway to the cemetery.

The veteran's cemetery where my uncle is buried is near our home, and is also where my father and several other family members are buried. You cannot enter the grounds without choking up, and you cannot sit through a burial ceremony without crying, I don't care how tough or emotionally disconnected you are.

Sitting in the small chapel, with my uncle's family, watching the incredibly sharp sailors salute his coffin and fold his flag, the noise of chainsaws and leaf blowers was a constant--and loud--reminder that this was not just any regular day.

Sunday evening at the viewing, I made one of those dark jokes that we of Irish heritage feel is our birthright, and said that I could easily see Uncle Ken sitting up there and enjoying the storm. He never was one to turn down an adventure. Wednesday morning all I was able to feel was sadness for the life of a man who gave much to his country and whose passing was so greatly overshadowed by the capriciousness of the weather.

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