The Viewing

Please, if you’re moved to do so, feel free to leave a few words for the family.  Funeral homes have web pages now??  Whether it’s a memory or if you just want to offer consolation.

Donald.  My father’s father’s name is Donald.

I’m still processing.  That means more writing.  My big sister, Tracey — our grandmother said that she’s a valiant gal.  No joke.  She’s been dealing with all of the logistics of the hospitals, social workers, Veteran’s Administration, funeral home, estate, and family ever since this all began back in August.  There may have been a time when she felt like she couldn’t handle things, but she’s been a soldier.

And all of this while working and being a single mother to her three boys.  One of my cousins said a long time ago that Tracey doesn’t realize how much we all respect her.  Gotta watch out for those mild mannered people.  When they’ve got business to handle they handle their business.

I tried to do my part.  Support, backup, etc.  All this to say that I (at the last procrastinating minute and until the wee, wee hours of this morning) put together an insert for the funeral program.  You can upload a file to the website of the company formerly named Kinkos, pick your options, and then go pick it up a few hours later.  (Uploading the file in the correct format took me the longest.  They didn’t have the clearest instructions on the site.)  They came out well.  This is one side of it.  The other has a poem titled “I’m Free”.

I had never seen most of these pictures before.  Kind of amazing to see my dad with the family and his brothers and all.  That’s my sister he’s holding.  I don’t think there are any pictures of me and my dad, though.  Definitely not as an adult.  Can’t think of any as a kid either.  He and my mom must have been divorced (and it was not pretty, I think) by then.  I know that he wasn’t present when I was born.  One of my uncles was, the husband of one of my mom’s sisters.

Some of the stories the family told today about my dad were priceless.  Hilarious.  So him.  His mother still calls him the bad egg.  “He got into everything I didn’t want him to get into.”   Kind of strange that I didn’t pick up on or acquire his love for dancing.

Strong willed, independent, defiant, scrappy.  Unfortunately, it was probably those qualities that also caused him to back away from raising a family.  I don’t know all of the details.  Eventually, he married my stepmother who has three daughters.  Man, there are a lot of women in my family.  There are a lot of people in my family.  I love it.  I re-met some cousins today that I haven’t seen in decades.  I kind of feel for people who don’t have siblings or who come from small families.

Anyway, one of my dad’s brothers said that Daddy was a hard man when he was younger and eventually when he started to be less so — to be more open and expressive and appreciative and … mature(?) — it was hard to accept at first.  They didn’t trust it.

My dad was living with my sister and her three boys for the past, what, two or three years?  The irony and the beauty of that situation is that he was home again.  Taken in by the daughter that he had left behind long ago.  To be a father and a grandfather.  With his itinerant son blowing through from time to time like a weather pattern.  El Niño.  He was a part of birthdays and holidays like he always wanted to be.

I bet when you get married you never imagine that you’ll be divorced and estranged, more or less, from your children.  That you’ll be arranging the visit every other weekend  schedule.  And I bet that once that falls apart you never think that you’ll have the chance to be a part of the household with your kids.

Here’s a larger version of an outing way back in the day with the Young family.

That’s me with the afro in the front next to Uncle Barry.  My sister, Tracey, in the purple and pink shirt holding the orange balloon.  Uncle Don far right reminding me a little of John Lennon with the sunglasses.  Who’s he holding?  Rhea?  And does he have another baby in his left arm?  Cousin Wayne behind me.  Not sure who the baby is in the yellow.  Yellow plaid.  Wow.  That must be cousin Mia next to Wayne.  Maybe.  Grandma in the back on the far left.  My dad, I think, next to her.  Or is that Aunt Terry’s husband.  Then Aunt Terry.  Not sure who the woman in the sunglasses is or the kids in front of her.  (Forgive me.  And fill me in if you know.)  Aunt Norma and her husband.

It’s a good picture of some of the clan, anyway.

Before I forget, what I want to say most is how proud I am of the man my dad grew to be.  Nobody’s perfect, right.  We all make our way the best we can using the tools we have.  Sometimes those tools aren’t the right ones for the situation but that may be all we have to work with.  It can get messy.  But Daddy was constantly growing, I think.  He had some humbling moments in his life and each time — you know.  We fall down.  But we get up.  He never stopped.  He struggled sometimes.  But he never stopped.

And everything he learned from the rough patches he tried to pass on to me, my sister and her kids.

Gone too soon, y’know.

Thank you to everyone for all of your support.  I know that if/when I need anything you’ve got my back.  But I tend to retreat to recharge.  So I doubly appreciate those of you who have helped to give me reasons and ideas for leaving the house.  Bacon week at Restaurant 3.  The recording session last night.  The good advice that I probably won’t follow.  Brunch and the pumpkin carving party that I just realized that I forgot about.

Damn it, this elbow tendon/ligament thing needs to heal NOW so I can go mountain biking.  Oh, that would be perfect right now.  In this weather, at this time.  Want.  Need.

Anyway, to wrap up for tonight, I had a thought.  I don’t know why this is strange to me, but here it is.   Everybody goes through this.  At some point.  At a family gathering not too long ago, the subject of funerals came up.  I said something like, “Ma, for my funeral I want…”

All of the adults in the room interrupted me at the same time.  Well, the older adults, I mean.  “You’ll be the one planning her funeral.  Not the other way around.”

I said, “Oh.  Oh right.”

Hating the thought of it.

Unless you die young, we will all grieve and suffer for our father and mother.   All of us.

I had a dream a few weeks ago when Daddy was in MICU at the Baltimore VA.  I dreamed that I was at my sister’s and he walked into the room and I pointed, surprised.  He said, “What are you staring at?”

I said, “You,” and in the dream I started laughing and crying at the same time.

He asked me, “What are you so happy about?”

I said, “Because you’re talking and walking and you’re here.”

Then I woke up.  The next day I drove up to Baltimore after work to the hospital.  I don’t know what I expected.  There was no change in his condition, but I did feel — I was able to talk to him.

Take care of yourselves.  For the long game.

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