The Old Phoenix and His Ashes

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.

Good-bye, Dad.

16 thoughts on “The Old Phoenix and His Ashes

    • Thank you. I appreciate that. Writing this story was a way to process my feelings. I’m doing well and helping my Mom get her place in order. My brother will be arriving this evening to help.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Oh, James…I feared for this. I am so sorry this happened, yet so pleased for you being there, because it does matter, and it helps. It is one less regret to have been at hand, and that you are there to help your mother, to be there for her to hold on to. I am so sorry for your trouble, for the loss, the grief, the inability to comfort those not there except with the words in your story showing you understand, because you so aptly proved that you do. Praying for all those left behind, that Abba will eventually wipe away the tears, and ease the aching hearts.


    • The timing was good, Q. I was here in time to say good-bye to my Dad and to be a support to my Mom. I also need to be a support to my children who are all taking their Grandpa’s death pretty hard. Thanks, Q.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. James. My heart ached for you when I read this. Thank you for putting caregiving and loss and love into such a beautiful passage. I can only pray I will be with my mum when she dies and remain grateful I was with my dad. Your words are where I might be soon. Thank you and sending peace and prayers for that peace.


  3. “… almost as if Gary was disconnected from the world.”

    I know that feeling, the actual feeling.

    In the past, it would’ve sounded like a metaphor.


    • My brother and I were commenting just yesterday how all this feels surreal. We’ve been cleaning out the garage and our Dad kept just about everything he ever owned. Hard to believe we’re actually doing this.


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