Gary woke up from the nightmare in a cold sweat. It was the same dream every night for the past week. He saw a man burning. The burning man was wailing. He reached out for Gary. His flaming hand almost touching his face.
Then Gary would wake up in a cold sweat.
He had just gotten his first job out of college as a mechanical engineer. The company had him move to Philadelphia, and for the next year, he would be helping to design a new generation of popcorn maker for movie theaters.
“It’s probably just the move. I’m in a strange place. That’s it.”
Gary got out of bed, then looked at the clock, and realized it was only 4 a.m. He could sleep for another few hours.
“Nah.” He headed toward the bathroom of his studio apartment. “Just have to keep drinking coffee to keep going.”
The eighth night, it was the same dream and it wasn’t. The flaming man reached out, but the flames started to diminish. The reaching hand seemed less threatening. It was like the flaming man was trying to tell him something.
The ninth night, the flames roared up and then burned down low. The face of the flaming man seemed familiar and friendly. He reached out. Gary wasn’t afraid. An old man’s hand touched his shoulder. “It’s going to be okay,” the man said.
The tenth night was the last night. The flaming man burned and burned and burned. He burned to ashes. Gary walked up to the smoldering heap. It was motionless, inert, dead.
Then the ashes rustled. Gary jumped back. They were rising from the ground, forming, becoming man-shaped. The ashes turned to hair and flesh and clothing. The ashes became a familiar and friendly face.
“It’s going to be okay, Gary. I’ll always love you. I’ll always be with you.”
“Grandpa!” Gary rushed into his open arms. He hadn’t talked with Grandpa in months. He’d been so busy, first with school, and then with the new job.
Grandpa couldn’t come to Gary’s graduation. The chemo made him too sick to travel.
“Grandpa, you look great. You beat the cancer. Oh God, I love you so much.”
Gary was still nuzzled against the old man’s chest when he heard him say, “It’s going to be okay, Gary. I’m going away now, but I’ll always love you.”
The ringing of his cell phone woke Gary out of the dream. Caller ID said it was Dad. Why was Dad calling so early?
“Hi Dad, what’s up?” Gary tried to shake the sleepiness from his thoughts.
“Gary, I’ve got some bad news. Grandpa died just a few minutes ago. There was nothing anyone could…”
He was still listening to his Dad but the words were distant, almost as if Gary was disconnected from the world. Grandpa said good-bye. From thousands of miles away and across eternity, Grandpa said good-bye.
Gary whispered, “Good-bye, Grandpa. I love you.”
Tears were steaming down his cheeks as his Dad tried to console him over the phone.
Less than a week later, Grandpa’s final wishes were observed and he was cremated. Grandma and her friends would spread his ashes near the old man’s favorite fishing hole.
Finally, the Phoenix and his ashes would come to rest.
My Dad died a little over 24 hours ago. Today, my Mom and I fulfilled my Dad’s wish and arranged for him to be cremated.
My three children, his grandchildren, are devastated. I can only pray they can come to peace with themselves and how much they’ll miss their Grandpa. Only one of them had spoken to him recently. You always think you have time enough in the world for the important things. That is, until time runs out.
Thank God I was here visiting when it happened.