REST ETERNAL, LIGHT PERPETUAL
for Gram and Gramps
laid to rest September 27th 2011
The chill breeze sent a swirl of leaves through the air and tumbling along the ground, the once-brilliant autumn colours appearing dull and faded in the grey morning light. The gently rolling lawns, with their neat lines of marble headstones and discreet footpaths, had lost the green lustre of summer; tufts of brown grass waved in the light gusts of wind blowing across the area. The many trees, now devoid of their foliage, were solitary sentinels pointing their twisted limbs toward the cloudy sky.
To the small group of mourners gathered in front of the columbarium, the surroundings were a perfect mirror for their mood: sadness, melancholy, and a bleakness that penetrated deep into the soul. They stood in a semicircle, perhaps a dozen in all, facing the gently curving granite wall. Hunched slightly and coats fastened tightly against the nudging fingers of the wind, the mostly grey-haired assemblage maintained a respectful silence as they awaited the arrival of the hearse bearing the clergyman and the one remaining member of their dear departed friend's family.
At last the long black vehicle appeared, driving slowly along the road and finally coming to a halt a short distance from where the group was waiting. The driver's door opened and the funeral director climbed out; he quickly moved to the passenger door and opened it, nodding deferentially as a priest stepped out, a leather bound prayer book in his hand. From the back seat two figures emerged; the first, a tall, dark-haired man, immediately turned and reached a hand back in to assist his companion. Moving gingerly, painfully, the final occupant of the car eased himself off the seat and into a standing position, his right hand tightly gripping the handle of a black walking stick, his casted left arm supported against his body by a tightly wrapped sling. As the two men slowly advanced up the path to the columbarium, the driver slipped to the back of the hearse and unlatched the door. Reaching inside, he gently lifted a small rectangular box from the rear compartment; with the box's green velvet cover straightened into neatness, the man stepped in behind the other two as they took their places in the semicircle in front of the dark granite structure.
The priest took a step forward, standing close to the wall and facing the group. He surveyed the sombre faces, most of them familiar members of his parish and long-time friends of the deceased. Sending them a calming look of understanding, he allowed his gaze to settle on the pair of strangers in their midst. The elder of the two, taller and projecting an unmistakable aura of command, was standing protectively close to the younger, sandy-haired man. The priest's heart clenched in empathy for the battered, injured figure; the young man looked to be in considerable distress, yet stood solemnly upright, not even accepting a hand of support from his companion. After a brief moment of silence and contemplation, the priest opened his book and and began to speak.
"Dear friends, we gather here today to say our final farewell to our friend and family member, Clara Williams." The clergyman's words drew the attention of the mourners. "This committal of her earthly remains is a continuation of the funeral service which we began some days ago at the parish church, but which we delayed until her nephew was able to join us." He turned to address the young detective directly. "Dan, we are pleased that you are well enough to be here with us."
Danny nodded slightly in acknowledgement of the man's words, not trusting himself to speak. As the priest continued his introduction, he allowed the sound to wash over him, his thoughts beginning to drift as he stared almost sightlessly across the expanse of the cemetery.
O o O o O
The slight, tow-headed little boy clung tightly to his mother's hand as they walked across the hot, breezy tarmac. Wide-eyed with wonder, he stared at the huge Stratoliner in front of them, with its silver body and row of tiny windows shining in the sunlight. The airplane's engines, two hanging from each wing, hummed softly in the afternoon heat, propellor blades spinning lazily while the ground crew completed its last minute pre-flight maintenance.
"Is that the plane I'm riding in? All by myself?" When he finally spoke the boy's voice was breathless with excitement. They reached the bottom of the staircase at last, and as a uniformed stewardess turned to greet them, the boy hid shyly behind his mother, little fingers gripping hers even more firmly than before.
The young mother smiled reassuringly at her son. "Yes, Danny, this is the airplane you'll be on. All by yourself, but with lots of other people to keep you company." She drew the reluctant child forward. "And this is the lady who will take you on board and get you settled in your seat. Let's say hello to her now, okay?"
"Hello," Danny mumbled quietly, head down and the toe of one shoe scuffing at the pavement.
"Hello, Danny. My name is Susan." The stewardess knelt down to speak directly to the little boy. "I understand you're going to be our extra special passenger today."
At a gentle nudge from his mother, Danny finally looked up. "Yes ma'am." He took a deep breath, then announced, "My name is Danny Williams and I'm going to New ... New York to visit my Aunt Clara. All by myself! But I'm a big kid, so I'll be okay," he added quickly, shooting a quick glance at his now-laughing parent. "I'm almost ten years old, you know."
"Are you really? Well, that's wonderful, almost-ten Danny!" Susan straightened up and exchanged a knowing grin with the other woman. "Are you ready to climb up those stairs and find your seat in the airplane?"
Danny nodded vigorously, the thrill of the start of the journey banishing the last of his shyness.
"Well then, let's get started!" she said, reaching in to her pocket and producing a neatly printed badge suspended on a thin silver chain. She placed it around his neck, explaining that it was his official name tag and would make sure that all flight crew and airline ground personnel in the airport would know who he was and what flight he was to be on. "Now we're ready to go, Danny," she concluded. "It's time to say goodbye to your mother and board the plane. We're going to take off soon!"
Almost-ten Danny Williams solemnly hugged his mother, clinging tightly for a moment before turning back to the staircase. On her part, Elaine Williams gave her son a final squeeze, then handed Danny's ticket and backpack to the stewardess. "He's being met in New York by his aunt, Mrs. Clara Williams," she said, at last releasing him and watching almost tearfully as he stepped away.
"Come along, Danny, let's go say hello to the pilot, okay?" Susan extended her hand to the little boy, and together the two of them climbed up the stairs and disappeared into the airplane, hands fluttering in a final, quick wave goodbye.
O o O o O
A frowning, slightly sullen teenage boy stalked through the front door of the airplane, impatiently ripping the badge containing his name and flight information from his sweatshirt. He strode down the ramp and into the arrivals area of the terminal, ignoring the efforts of a harried flight attendant behind him endeavouring to keep up. Coming to a halt in front of the baggage carrousel, he at last acknowledged her presence, turning to stare at her with a mixture of youthful belligerence and petulance. "You don't have to stay with me, you know," he said defiantly. "My aunt will be here to meet me, I don't need a babysitter any more."
The stewardess stifled a sigh of frustration. The youth placed in her charge for the flight from Honolulu to New York had been moody and difficult throughout the trip, not responding to any of her efforts to make his journey more enjoyable. From his initial protest at having to wear an identifying name tag as an unaccompanied minor ("I'm not a baby, I can travel by myself!" he had stormed furiously, genuinely horrified at the sight of the colourful badge), to his barely civil monosyllabic replies to most attempts at conversation, fifteen year old Danny Williams had proven to be a challenging passenger. The circumstances had not improved when the plane had landed in a driving rainstorm, the dark grey clouds and cooler temperatures making the contrast with sunny Honolulu even more marked. So when Clara Williams arrived to pick up her young nephew, the weary flight attendant was more than relieved to deliver him safely on his way.
In the car on the way to her home, Clara was quick to pick up on her nephew's gloomy mood. "Now, young Danny, what's the matter?" she asked, glancing at his frowning face as she manoeuvred through the heavy freeway traffic. "The last time you were here to see me we had a grand old time! So what's wrong now?"
Danny hesitated for a moment, but in the end his frustration and exhaustion from the long journey won out over his better judgement. "I don't need to be here!" he burst out. "I know my parents are going away on vacation, but I'm old enough to stay by myself! And besides..." he trailed off, glaring fiercely out the windshield. "Never mind," he muttered quietly, suddenly deflated. "It doesn't matter now, anyway."
"Yes, it does matter," Clara responded quickly. "And besides what, Danny?"
The youth sighed, slumping back in his seat and closing his eyes. "It's nothing against you, Aunt Clara, really, it isn't," he said. "It's just that I'd rather be on the beach, surfing with my friends in the sunshine, than here in New York in the rain! And it's two whole weeks!" he added, aware that he sounded like he was sulking but past the point of caring. He rested his head against the window and sighed again.
Clara Williams smiled sympathetically. She had her suspicions about what might be bothering her nephew, having received a phone call from her brother the previous week warning her of Danny's reluctance to travel. As a result of that conversation, she had called upon her considerable network of friends to put together a fortnight's worth of activities that even her unenthusiastic young charge would find challenging and exciting, including some sailing and surfing at her vacation home at the shore. While it wouldn't be the pristine white beaches and huge curls that Danny was used to, the eastern seaboard could put on its own fair show and Clara was certain that her nephew would eventually begin to enjoy himself.
"I understand, Danny," she said now, reaching over and patting his knee. "But your mother and father wanted you to be here with me, so we'll both have to make the best of it, okay?"
The teenage boy remained silent, but he did look over at his hopeful, kindly aunt and smile slightly.
O o O o O
The muted roar of a jet airplane teased the edge of the young man's awareness. He resisted the urge to look up into the clear blue sky, however, instead remaining rigidly at attention as the Academy Commandant and the parade reviewing officer walked slowly along the line of uniformed police cadets in which he stood.
The sound faded as the plane continued on its path towards the airport. He swallowed a sigh of regret at the reminder of a flight he hadn't had to meet the previous day, the one that his Aunt Clara had intended to be on. Two days before her planned departure, however, she had fallen down some steps made icy by a New York winter storm, and had broken her ankle in two places. The resulting surgery to set the bones eliminated all possibility of travel; the elderly woman had almost been in tears when she called to break the news. He had been concerned for his aunt's health, then reassuring and understanding when she explained why she couldn't be there. So now, at this graduation parade which was the culmination of years of hard work, he was alone; there was nobody here with whom he could celebrate his achievement.
A sudden wave of sadness swept over him, and he fought briefly to maintain his facade of composure; the Police Academy parade square was hardly the place for a display of emotion. Tapping into the same deep reserves that had gotten him through the death of his parents and his own move back to Hawaii from California, newly-minted Officer Danny Williams stood proudly with his classmates, head held high and face impassive even as the Commandant congratulated him and observed that his family must be proud of his achievement. And later, at the reception, he took a quiet moment by himself to raise a glass in a toast to his Aunt Clara, who was absent in body but present in spirit on this most important day.
O o O o O
A gentle nudge from the figure at his side brought Danny back to the present reality. The priest had finished his prayers, and was waiting in understanding silence for the young detective to come forward for what would be the final part of the committal service. The small group of mourners looked on in sympathy as Steve extended his arm to assist his injured comrade. Danny gently shook him off, however, leaving the older man to watch in concern as he walked haltingly to stand next to the priest.
"I now ask that Dan take this box, which contains the earthly remains of his aunt, Clara Lynn Williams, and place it in this, her final resting place." As he spoke, the clergyman stepped aside to reveal the open, empty niche in the wall behind him, and subtly motioned for the funeral director, who was standing at the ready, to step in beside the young man.
Danny took a deep breath and set his cane down, leaning it carefully against the dark granite wall before accepting the velvet-covered box from the man. For a brief, poignant moment he cradled it tightly against his chest, head bowed and eyes closed, shutting out the world for this final moment of togetherness with his Aunt Clara. Then, with a hand that was only slightly shaking, he slid the box into the open niche, centering it and straightening the green velvet into tidiness that he knew would have pleased his aunt. With that final task completed, the young detective reclaimed his cane, and slowly and painfully made his way back to his place beside Steve.
The priest waited until Danny was settled, then opened his book one last time to complete the burial rites. The requisite prayers were read, their familiar phrases both bleak and comforting at the same time. Into the chill air, under the blanket of the grey clouds above, the final words were spoken:
Requiem aeternum, dona eis domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Rest eternal grant unto her, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon her.
May she rest in peace and rise in glory.
O o O o O
Gradually, in pairs and small groups, the mourners departed, each stopping to offer a comforting handshake or hug and words of condolence to the young man. He acknowledged each one, still not trusting himself to speak, with a nod of gratitude and thanks. The funeral director and priest discreetly withdrew to the car, leaving just Danny and Steve standing together in front of the columbarium.
Finally breaking his silence, Danny spoke slowly and quietly. "She never missed a week, you know," he said. "She would call to talk to me, even if it was just for a few minutes. Especially after her visit to Honolulu a few years ago..." He trailed off, a small, wistful smile playing across his face. "I think she was hoping for a return trip, even though she hadn't planned anything definite." The smile abruptly vanished. "But that won't happen now, of course."
Steve nodded in remembrance of Clara Williams' involvement in a case almost from the moment of her arrival in Hawaii. Her help had been instrumental in the cracking of a scheme in which a nursing home owner had bilked the life savings from several senior citizens. The feisty woman's courage in the face of danger had been very much like her nephew's: true, unshakable, and very revealing of the strength of character that seemed to run in the Williams family.
"She certainly seemed to have a flair for the dramatic, which turned out to be quite beneficial to us." The Five-O chief kept his tone quiet and respectful. "Clara may not be able to fly to our Islands, but you will bring all your good memories of her back with you. She'll always be there, Danno, as a source of caring and inspiration for you." Steve reached out and gave his companion's uninjured arm a gentle squeeze of support. "Now, my friend, are you finished here? You really need to be off your feet and getting some rest."
Danny tried to brush Steve's concern aside, but in truth he was almost trembling with his efforts to stay standing now that the emotional boost from the committal service was fading. He kept his gaze on the newly-installed plaque on the wall for a moment longer, then finally bowed his head in acknowledgment of the older man's words. "Okay, Steve," he whispered. "I'm ready to go now."
The two detectives turned and began the long, slow walk back to the car. Steve kept close to Danny's side, unobtrusively supporting him along the path with a steadying hand under his elbow and the occasional quiet murmur of encouragement. At length they made it to the vehicle, where with the driver's assistance Danny was settled into the back seat and buckled safely in. The big black hearse pulled away from the side of the road, leaving behind the now-deserted columbarium. As they drove past it, a sudden break in the clouds allowed a few fledgling sunbeams to emerge into the gloomy day; the dark granite of the wall glittered in the new light, and for a brief moment it seemed as if the whole structure was infused with an inner glow. From the rear windows of the car Steve and Danny watched, mesmerized, until the effect faded and the stone resumed its original appearance. Wordlessly they settled back into their seats, but as the car took them away and out toward the cemetery gates, a sensation of calm and peace lingered in the silence.