Below is the "lonely and empty" scene that I saw this morning when I looked out into our back yard, onto the firepit where we gathered for a memorial service — the celebration of Johnny's life — last evening.
How blessed I am to have had such a meaningful gathering of men, women, and children around a blazing fire in our back yard last night. Just as the darkness was falling upon the yard, some of my men arrived to help me set the fire. When all was ready, my wife and daughters joined us to watch the first sparks ignite the kindling. Over the next half hour, longtime friends and family arrived. Finally, we all held hands in a circle — the mid-Winter fire now blazing — and I began by briefly describing the final chapter, where cancer took Johnny's life, and then told stories about what it was like growing up with Johnny — the much older brother who showed up at the family home returning from far away cities, driving fancy sports cars, bringing home his lovely new wife and eventually his baby daughter, Karina. I was awe-inspired by my big brother.
Many people around the fire had actually known Johnny, so we heard stories about him being in our wedding in 1979, when he showed up in his RV with Lorraine, and when we saw them both over Christmas/New Years on a few occasions. I talked about how earlier that afternoon I had "labored for an hour" shoveling away the snow to expose the fire ring, and what a privilege that felt like — being the one to prepare the site the way I know Johnny would have liked his send off to be.
Much later, after an inside dinner and reminiscing, when everyone had gone home... I went outside by myself to watch the tiny flames amid dying embers, still fighting on a cold Winter night to generate enough heat to incinerate the remaining fragments of wood. And finally it really hit me that Johnny's time on this Earth has indeed run out; from here on in I will feel his warmth in the flames, hear his spirit in the rustle of the wind in Wintery branches, and sense his presence in the stillness of a dark cold Winter's midnight silence.