When my father passed away in 1965, my mother made the poignant decision to have him buried in his hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming. I have never quizzed my mother as to why she made this decision, but I have always admired her for it. In one way, it would have been nice to have his final resting place nearby so we could have made visits more often. However, considering that most of his family live there in Wyoming and have deceased loved ones in the local cemetery in Cheyenne, I can see why my mother may have wanted him there.
She made the trip alone in February, 1966 to attend his memorial service, which took place in St. Paul’s Cathedral in Cheyenne. Most of the family in Wyoming grew up Catholic and as a child, my father was raised in the same religious tradition. My brother and I did not attend the funeral; however, my mother took us to Wyoming a couple years later to visit the family and to see where my father was buried.
Being six years old at the time, I have a sketchy and limited memory of those events. I remember my cousin Leo taking my brother and me, along with his three daughters, on a driving excursion in his VW Beetle. He took turns letting each one of us sit on his lap and drive. Our hands were on the wheel, but I’m sure his were on it, too, making sure we didn’t veer into oncoming cars. With us being as small as we were, I definitely know his feet were on the pedals, controlling our speed, which as I recall was a very slow snail’s pace. That visit was also the only time I recall seeing my grandmother, Susanna. It was her birthday, and my mom asked me to give her the present we bought for her. When I handed it to her, she gave me a great big smile and began saying something to me in Spanish. I had never heard anyone speak a foreign language before, and for some reason it scared me and I began to cry. I can remember those things from our visit, but I cannot say that I remember visiting the cemetery and seeing my father’s grave. My only record are the pictures that my mom took and passed on to me.
Throughout this entire process of digging through the facts and discovering the circumstances of my father’s passing, it became clearer to me that I had not been given the adequate opportunity to grieve for my father…or at least, to have my own personal “memorial service” for him. The trip that we made to Wyoming in 2001 would give me that opportunity.
We arrived in Wyoming late on a Thursday evening and wasted no time making our pilgrimage to my dad’s burial site on Friday. I knew in my heart that this would be a defining moment in my journey. I felt that this event would go a long way in filling the hole I had uncovered during this process. As we drove up to the cemetery, we stopped at several markers along the way. We saw the headstones of my Uncle John, my dad’s oldest brother. My grandmother, Susanna, and my grandfather, Francisco are also buried in that same cemetery.
As we made our way to see my dad’s grave, I could feel the emotion beginning to swell inside of me. In a way, there was a sense of awkwardness about the moment. I had embarked on this journey to discover the truth. My brother, for his own personal reasons, chose not to share it with me, and to a large degree, my mom had already laid much of these events to rest years ago. All through this journey, Jeannie was and still is most supportive of my quest, and it meant so much to have her there with me. It was meaningful to have Jonathan and Aaron there; after all, this was their grandfather. In a way we were here because of the questions Jonathan asked me the night I had the momentous dream about my dad. I was also going to share this moment with my newly rediscovered family….my cousins, Charlotte, Doris, and Theresa. The connections that we had made were already powerful, and I knew that this would be one of those benchmark moments that none of us would forget.
The sense of awkwardness came from the fact that my mother would be sharing that moment with me also. How would she feel watching this moment among the Sausedo relatives evolve? How would I react to that moment, and what would I say to her? I had no preconceived ideas or notions how any of this would play out.
The beauty about the life we live is that the moments – those benchmark moments that serve to flavor and define our lives – come in the most spontaneous and unscripted manner. Those occasions tend to unfold without any deliberate orchestration and manipulation. And when they are over, all you can say is, “Wow….where did that come from?”
As expected, seeing the marker up close and in person was daunting. “Mike R Sausedo…Wyoming….SP4, US Army….May 8, 1928 (his birthday)….Jan 25, 1966″ (the day he was legally declared dead). I knelt down and began to weep. All those emotions that had been pent-up and tucked away came gushing out in the form of tender tears. No one spoke a word. The quietness and stillness was reverent and sacred. This was my time to properly grieve for the loss of my father. This was my memorial service.
As I got up and wiped the tears from my eyes, the most natural thing happened. My mom and I embraced, and I began to weep even more. Then these unplanned, unscripted words rolled off my tongue: ”Mom….you did good….you did good.” As surprised and gratified as I was that those were the words that came out of my mouth, even more surprising and gratifying were the words that came out of hers. “I needed to hear that,” she said. “I needed to hear that.” That moment was priceless.
One terrible mistake that we often make as human beings is taking things for granted. I just accepted the fact that my mom did what she had to do to compensate for the loss of my dad without any real thought in doing so. I just assumed she was strong and solid in her building our house into a home all by herself. And while all of that was true, she still needed to know that she had done it well. She still needed to hear those words from my mouth….”You did good.”
The journey had come to its end, and the resolve I so longed for was attained. I had come through this cacophony of emotions and now had paid my respects to my father and fully laid him to rest. And in the process, I came to embrace even more what I had always known – that I was surrounded by the most precious of treasures in my wife, my boys, my new-found Wyoming family, and my mom.