Finally, the very long day had come to an end.
Jack sat on the balcony, alone, staring out at the Washington skyline. General Hammond's granddaughters, Amber and Stephanie, now in their late teens, had watched the twins all day. They'd gone home just a few minutes ago. Now Sam was inside settling Jake and Grace for the night.
Jack O'Neill had buried his mother today. Margaret O'Neill Cramer, a woman who'd been dead to him over forty years ago and resurrected no more than ten days ago, was laid to rest today, attended by family and friends. Both of her children were there, in the front of the church and again at the graveside. Sam had held his hand throughout the day, gently offering her support and staying close by. When Jack had chosen to leave immediately after the graveside service, she'd left with him, politely saying goodbye to Maureen, before the rest of the gathering went back to the house for an old fashioned Irish wake.
This time he'd had the chance to say goodbye. In the process, he'd found blessings he'd never expected.
He'd been surprised how easy it was to let go of his anger, his hatred. All he needed was to see her, to hear her voice. He'd never wanted to hate her. He'd wanted to protect her. But at twelve, he hadn't the strength to be her defender. This week, he'd been strong in a totally different way. Emotional strength wasn't exactly a trait people connected with Jack O'Neill. But he'd faced the challenge. With the help of Sam and the love of his children he'd faced the challenge of a lifetime.
Jack sensed Sam's presence before he felt her lips gently graze his cheek or her arms slowly wind their way around his neck. And then he heard her whispering in his ear, "I'm very proud of you." He closed his eyes and let his wife's words sink in. He loved her so much. It still amazed him how much weight her opinion carried for him.
"How are you doing?" she asked gently, slipping a cold drink into his hand and pulling a chair up close beside him.
"Good, I'm good, Sam," he said, then paused to think a bit more. "I don't know," he added absently, "I'm a little off somehow. An awful lot has happened in the past week. I've met a sister I never knew I had, a mother I'd lost long ago and now I've said good-bye, again. It's a lot to take in."
"It is, Jack. It's going to take time. Believe me, I know. It takes time no matter how you loose them – your parents I mean."
"No matter how you loose them," Jack echoed.
(Four days earlier)
Within a day of Jack's first visit, Margaret had taken to her bed. Though both Maureen and the nurses found her very much at peace, her vital functions were failing. As the day wore on she was less alert, sleeping more of the time. In short, she appeared ready to die.
Maureen was certain it would be at least a day or two. Her mother had one more thing to do – meet her grandchildren. Jack had offered to bring Sam and the twins to meet Margaret and Maureen knew her mother wouldn't miss that for the world.
Jack was true to his word. Two days after his visit, he returned with Sam, Grace and Jake. Maureen noticed he didn't tell the children Margaret was their grandmother and her mother didn't push the subject. After all, there were some things that would never be quite right. But as they visited in the bedroom, Margaret reminded her daughter of a queen holding court. She was beaming and the children were attentive, mesmerized by the special gifts Margaret had prepared for them.
The gifts looked familiar to Jack, but he couldn't quite place them. For the life of him, he didn't know where his mother could have found these items. They looked like genuine collectables, decades old.
A Mister Ed talking hand puppet and a Davy Crockett coonskin cap … it can't be, he thought. She kept them! He'd outgrown them by age six, thought they'd been tossed away or packed up in the attic. He was inseparable from those two playthings almost through the first grade. Used to think I was the coolest of the cool, wearing Davy Crockett's hat and let's face it, Mr. Ed was just fun!
The hat went right on Jake's head and he pranced around like he was "the coolest". Like father like son. Grace inherited Mr. Ed and took to the talking horse suggestion with no trouble whatsoever.
After twenty minutes or so, it was clear that Margaret was rapidly tiring, Sam graciously bid her goodbye, Margaret kissed the children and Jack was left alone with his mother.
"I have a gift for you too, Jack."
"You've already given away all my favorite stuff, mom!" he teased in his normal Jack O'Neill tone before he could catch the words or remember this was not an ordinary situation.
Margaret smiled softly and took his hand. She didn't miss the fact that he'd actually called her mom. "I'm going to give you one of my favorite things." Lifting up a small carved wooden box, he placed it in Jack's hand. "Do you recognize it?"
It took him all of five seconds to recognize the gift he'd made for Mother's Day when he was ten years old. In one of the rare, peaceful moments he recalled from his childhood, his father had shown him how to fashion the jewel box in the woodshop and instructed him in carving the intricate design. He held it in his hands, closed his eyes and took a deep breath to calm his emotions, so frighteningly close to the surface right now.
"I don't know what to say. You've kept it all this time?"
"Yes, Jack. It's always meant a great deal to me. My son made it. It is a family heirloom, you know. I'm hoping someday you'll pass it on to the children."
"I'd be happy to do that, Mom."
(The night of the funeral)
The car pulled out of the driveway, its jerky motion a sure sign that the driver was under the influence. As it took off down the neighborhood street, tires screeching, a tall lanky adolescent boy took off after it, pedaling as fast as he could on his bike. The rain fell harder and the wind blew. The boy's face was stung by the pelting rain and his heart beat faster with fear. He hated it when his father took off like this.
He rode as fast as he could, struggling to stay close to his dad's car. He had to catch him this time. He just had to catch him. If only he could make him stop before it was too late, before he heard the crash he'd heard a thousand times before this night. There it was, the final turn before the embankment. Now, it was now…
The scene changed. The boy found himself at home. Dry, warm, calm in his own room, he sat on his bed. Familiar arms wrapped around him. A soothing voice told him it wasn't his fault. The voice assured him he'd been a good son and would grow into a good man. He knew the voice, but she'd been gone so long. It was his mother's voice he heard, his mother's touch he felt, his mother's comfort he now enjoyed.