Chapter 31 – Jason’s Funeral
The first limousine held Peggy, her parents Patrick and Bridget, her surviving son Sean, her niece Jess, and her brother the priest Desmond. The rest of the family were in the second. Friends, neighbors and the press followed. The cars, their headlights lit, crawled through the cemetery gates.
The snowstorms that had battered Boston repeatedly in the last two weeks hid the gravestones. The cemetery looked like an open white field dotted with rocks, but the rocks were the top of the grave markers. At least today the skies decided to hold their snow, but the rippled grey sky made everything bleak.
“Is everything ready?” Peggy whispered to Jess as the car stopped. Her hands shook until her niece covered them with hers.
“My friends arranged everything.” Jess looked closely at Peggy. “Don’t chicken out.”
The funeral director and driver Ed got out of the hearse. He tapped on the window, which Patrick lowered. “Wait here until we get the coffin in place, please.”
“How’ll we know?” Patrick asked. He was breathing heavily.
“I’ll come for you,” Ed said.
Patrick pushed the button to raise the window.
“The Mass was beautiful,” Bridget said.
“Thank you, Desmond. How much longer can you stay?” Peggy asked.
“I need to be back at the Vatican by Monday.”
No one said anything else until Ed reappeared.
Sean held his mother’s hand as she led the procession. Peggy like everyone else, had changed into boots. A wide path to the gravesite had been shoveled. Desmond walked with his mother, while the others followed.
“Damned ghouls.” Bill, Peggy’s brother-in-law, pointed to the newsmen with their cameras, milling around. They were dressed in jeans except for the anchors. One person combed the hair of a man holding a microphone with the call letters WBZ on it.
“I’ll get rid of them,” Bill said.
Peggy grabbed his arm. “I want them here.”
“This should be private,” Patrick snapped.
“I said I want them here.” Peggy spoke through clenched teeth as she saw the casket, now with the flag covering it, resting next to a gaping hole. Ed had told her that they needed special equipment to dig through the frozen ground.
Two Marines, a rank higher than Jason, stood at attention at either end of his casket. Peggy looked at their faces and wondered what horrors they’d seen. How like babies they looked. Had they killed someone else’s son? Would one day their parents be standing over their coffins? “God give me strength,” she prayed silently.
Jess moved her head slightly. Peggy followed her eyes to where a group of Jess’s friends stood. The news people faced the family. Two cameramen balanced their cameras on their shoulders. Jess stationed herself in such a way that the news people would have to knock her down to leave.
“I smell gas,” Sean whispered to his mother.
Peggy’s knuckles were white from clutching her handbag. She handed it to Sean to keep her hands free. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one camera man begin to leave. Jess stopped him.
Her brother finished praying over the casket, but she didn’t listen. The final notes of ‘Taps’ brought her back from the place her mind had hidden to survive. Her heart raced as she watched each of the Marines drop their hands to their sides after their salutes to the casket.
The Marines marched to the casket, one on each end. In perfect synchronization they picked up the corners of the flag and moved four steps to left. The first and second folds of the flag were vertical. Than the Marine holding the stripes end folded the fabric so there was a triangle. He repeated it 11 times until only white stars on the blue field were visible. The Marine, the same one Peggy had thrown out of the funeral home yesterday, who held the folded flag took a sharp right and walked slowly towards Peggy.
“On behalf of a grateful nation …” he began.
When she glared into his eyes, he faltered and looked away.
“On behalf of a grateful nation, Mrs. Doherty …” again the glare stopped him.
“I … want to present this flag … in recognition of the sacri…”
“This isn’t your fault,” she whispered as she grabbed the flag. The cloth was rough. When it flew, it looked so silky dancing in the air. Once when she looked at it, she felt proud. Now it inspired fear and a sadness that went so deep she couldn’t describe it.
She inhaled, filling her lungs. “And I accept this flag from the nation that killed my son for nothing.” Oh, how she hoped the news people heard her.
The Marine’s face crumpled.
Without saying another word, she turned and marched towards Jess’s friends who waited apart from the others. They all held lighted candles. She heard her niece admonish the newsmen, “Don’t stop filming.”
She wanted to vomit, but if her son could fulfill a commitment that he no longer believed in only because he had made that commitment, she had the courage to do what she could to stop the war.
“Where are you going?” her mother asked as Peggy passed her.
Peggy clutched the flag. Don’t let me slip, she prayed.
Jess’s friends parted like Moses parted the Red Sea.
“Imagine there’s no countries …” the young voices sang out in the cold.
The last two of Jess’s friends moved aside to reveal an old-fashioned tin garbage can. Peggy wondered where they’d found it, but then her mind came back to what she was about to do. Please God, help me.
“It’s easy if you try …” A soprano’s voice soared above the others.
“She’s throwing the flag away,” someone said.
“No one to kill or die for …” The soprano riffed the word die.
Peggy could barely breathe. She dropped the flag in the can. A young man whom she had never seen before handed her his candle. She dropped it and stepped back as the fire soared. Heat singed her skin.
She turned to face the shocked expressions. The limousine seemed miles away, but she made it step by step, the John Lennon song ringing in her ears.
The reporters reached her faster than her family, who seemed bolted to the ground. By the time Peggy put her hand on the door of the limousine she was surrounded. “Why did you do it?” a woman shoved a mike in her face.
Peggy saw a camera pointed at her. “Any country that goes to war for fake reasons doesn’t deserve a flag.” She got into the limousine and slammed the door. Through the darkened windows she saw their astonished faces, but they couldn’t see her tears.