I asked if I could open the urn, and the funeral director said yes. I was in the visitors center-headquarters of the Santa Fe National Cemetery, and I'd come to bury my favorite uncle, Michael Henry Clark. I carry his name as my middle name, and I believe he and his oldest brother and my dad, Terrence, must have been the closest of all the five brothers from Comanche, Oklahoma.
They opened the small black box and I reached inside to touch the clear plastic bag that held the sandy-white chalky remains of the old sailor. I did so, and shut the urn. I don't know why. I just did. The last time I'd touched Mike was to say goodbye at the veterans home at Walsenburg on Memorial Day. We'd spent the day together, telling stories, eating, me wheeling him around in his wheelchair.
Last week we went up the hill to bury him. After reading the obituary I've posted earlier, and reading Psalm 23, I made the following remarks.
We gather here in sadness and loss to celebrate and honor the life of Michael Henry Clark.
While we mourn, I know there’s a big reunion at a bar in heaven where Mike and his four brothers are laughing and swapping stories again.
I prefer to think of Mike like this, of the many stories that he told and the many stories of ours that we all know and can laugh about.
Mike brought travel, stories and laughter to us all.
I have pictures of me in diapers being held by him in his WWII Navy uniform, of him teaching me to punt a football, of camping. Growing up in Albuquerque, my brother Jerry says there was always excitement when Uncle Mike was coming—he brought gifts and stories and we had midnight breakfasts just to keep listening. In the last 10 years I can tell you stories of him picking up hitchhiking veterans and pueblo residents, and many more retracing these years.
I know you have many more than I do, having known him as his adopted family who adopted him.
Isn’t that a great gift to us all?
Remember his big toothy smiles, large Clark ears and nose, easy laughter, Depression era toughness and stubbornness as he taught generations of young people or stocked his pantry with enough food to feed the US Navy, as he navigated life, a sailor docking his ship in Santa Fe.
As a friend told him, “Mike you couldn’t have found a better place to park your magic carpet.”
Stop a moment and think of one of those happy memories and stories, and laugh with him one more time…..
When I last saw Mike on Memorial Day, he said to me, “Terry, live every day.”
Mike Clark did that.
Now his remains are just across the road from his apartment of 32 years. He didn’t care where he was buried but I told him earlier it had to be here…where the sound of the bells of St. Francis Cathedral and taps at 9 p.m. will touch his grave every day.
He always said to me, “You couldn’t have come at a better time. You’re home.”
Mike is home.
On the last day of his life, we chatted away in the afternoon, and he told me to tell Jo and Lynn and Mon how much he missed and loved them. Later he watched the World Series and was being put to bed, chatting away, and probably flirting, with the nurses.
They sat him down on the edge of the bed. There was a sound, and they laid him down and he was gone.
When I’d call every week, he’d always say, “Don’t forget me.”
We can’t forget you, Mike.
Santa Fe is just not the same without Mike Clark. We miss you.
God, thank you for Mike Clark. Comfort us with the many good memories of the years we knew and loved him. Amen.
The next morning I went up the hill again to take photographs of the resting place of his ashes.
|Graves of those cremated at Santa Fe National Cemetery, with Santa Fe Baldy and the Sangre de Cristos in the background,t he view Mike could see from his apartment across the road. Mike's temporary marker is the closes name tag five right of the orange marker.|
|Mike's ashes final resting place, the temporary marker at right.|
Michael Henry Clark
Sept, 4, 1922
Oct. 24, 2011
And what is eerie about this, as I post it, my blog music starts playing Ravel's Ports of Call.