After a quick trip to the bathroom to compose myself, I had to put it out of my mind for the next couple of hours in order to be "bright and shiny" for the remainder of the rehearsal dinner. My sister and I texted back and forth for a while near the end, each asking if the other had heard anything and what we each thought was going to happen. After the meal and the toasts, I went out front to take a walk and call my mom back. "He never stopped eating, right up to the end," she said, a sad smile in her voice. "Fred fed him beef stew an hour before he died. He always said that a POW would never miss a meal..."
After we hung up, I started crying. Finding a bench to sit on, concealed by the pitch darkness, I was suddenly distracted by a loud noise. I looked toward downtown Winston-Salem and saw, over the trees in the distance... fireworks. A full, colorful display. In August. For no apparent reason at all.
Somehow, that made me feel better. Watching the colorful bursts of light, I smiled, wiped my tears, and murmured a goodbye.
He's been ready to go for a long time. And he and my grandma are together again, if you believe that sort of thing. But one way or another, he's okay now, and that knowledge helps.