I wouldn’t call it a back rub night. It’s more of a fall asleep with your head in someone’s lap night.
At first I thought this was strange, but I’m getting used to the idea. The funeral home automatically sets up memorial pages for the family:
I uploaded a few photos and they have the full obituary there plus a place to leave thoughts and memories. Shareable via Facebook, Twitter, email and such. Being a professional web designer/developer, I have to say — I like it. Even though it doesn’t fully compute, I like it.
I haven’t seen much of my father’s side of the family in so long that a number of my relatives had no idea who I am. Even sitting there in the front row they’d walk by and shake my hand politely and introduce themselves. Sometimes I’d just say “thank you” politely as they expressed their condolences. Every now and then I’d say, “It’s me, Gary.”
But it was heart warming to see everyone there and the gathering afterwards. I haven’t seen my stepsisters in so long. Well, let’s put it this way. One of my stepsisters brought her daughter with her. Her 22 year old daughter. One of the others was telling me that her son is interested in computers. And I’m thinking he’s a kid who likes computers.
“How old is he?”
Families are weird. All of the dynamics and interactions. The history that you aren’t aware of growing up. Who was tight with whom and who had issues with one another. I think one of those turn of the century southern writers could create a novel from any family picked at random.
A Final Viewing
I don’t know what a wake is. I guess I do now. They had everyone file in and get a chance to view my dad in the coffin. Once everyone was seated the funeral home coordinator came by the front row where my uncle, sister, grandmother, stepmother, me and the nephews were sitting and asked if we wanted to view him one more time. We said no.
Then the coordinator started to lower the lid of the coffin and … man. I was not ready. Still, I was okay until one of my aunts, who sings opera, sang “It is Well With My Soul”. Goodness. That got me. It did. Because I’m still in the process of being well with it, I guess.
One of my relatives has cancer. One of those cancers that’s very tough to deal with due to the organs it affects. She said that she was mad at Daddy when he died because they were in it together. He would tell her, “You can beat this.”
And he’d say things like, “Don’t you go dying before me.”
During the family meeting that we had and during the family viewing and at the funeral I was thinking that it’s so sad to see siblings lose one another. And for a mother to outlive her children.
I’m in awe of the grace of my family. The unsuppressed spirit of the family.
It was hard to see someone so full of life and willfulness — so still. My father, living with my sister in Dundalk, would take the bus into the city to go dancing. For an hour and a half of dancing, he would take an hour and a half bus ride to get there and a two and a half hour bus ride to get back. He might ask for you to drop him off at the metro or bus stop. ”I got it from here.”
He had throat cancer. Well, he had throat cancer years ago and was told that he had five years to live. That was, what, fourteen years ago? He went through all the treatments. There were biopsies and occasional growths and he was dealing with each event as it came. About a week before my birthday he called me and left a message. You know I’m not good with phones for some reason. He left a message saying:
“Hey, son. This is your daddy. I think this may be it. Please call me back. I have an important question to ask you. Please get back to me. Love you. Your daddy.”
When I got the message I was like, oh man. I was worried because I knew he had to get a biopsy done and all that business. So I took a deep breath and dialed his number.
“Hey, Daddy. What’s going on?”
He says in a hoarse voice, “Oh son. I think this is it. Your father’s on his last legs.”
“You wanted to ask me something?”
“Yes I did,” he said in a clear, strong voice. ”What size shoe do you wear?”
Picture my face. Relief, annoyance and a hint of wanting to laugh. Silence as I juggled at least three conflicting emotions.
I said, “Did you just call me and leave that message to ask me what size shoes I wear?”
“Yes I did.”
“Daddy,” I said. Not hiding my annoyance.
He said that he wasn’t going to miss my birthday this time. And he didn’t. On my mother’s side of the family, there are three of us with birthdays in early March. We celebrated at — what is that place. The all you can eat buffet next to Eastpoint Mall. You know the one. He hadn’t seen my mother and her family in eons. But he was there. And damn it all to hell … I should have made more of an effort to show him how much I appreciated his being there. And of course, afterward he did his thing. Didn’t want a ride back. He said he had things to do, hugged me goodbye and walked off to the mall. Said he’d catch the bus home.
Every time I saw him after that he would ask me if the shoes fit. I hadn’t had the opportunity to dress up so I hadn’t worn them. But I remember when I went over to my sisters and was kind of dressed up for something. I was wearing the shoes. At first he was kind of just looking at me because he hadn’t seen me cleaned up. Checking out the tie and shirt and stuff. He looked down and saw me wearing the shoes he had bought and he did that Arthur G. Young thing. ”Hot dog!”
I was talking to a friend about this kind of thing. That shock of guilt when you think back about all the times and opportunities you took for granted. The if onlys. She said that people don’t really — can’t really — live like that. Always in the frame of mind of the temporal nature of life. That reminded me of something one of the Landmark instructors said. In research of people who’ve had near death experiences, their new found zeal for life — the all out balls to the wall, live life to the fullest, drink from the cup, eyes wide open passion for life — lasted for about six months. Then they slowly returned to the “normal” mode of living.
But you know. Still.
Even with all that on my mind, fresh on my mind, I have an urge to come home. Hanging out with the family or with friends. I just want to go home. To my apartment, I mean. It’s that recharging thing, I guess. Been pretty depleted lately. It’s like gravity. Like birds drawn to flock to the south, following the earth’s magnetic field. Like the lost cat or dog that finds its way home from hundreds of miles away. It’s a pull. I could be two hours from home at 1 AM and a friend will say, “You can crash here tonight if you want.”
Or I could have family in the area and something in me strains to come back here. It’s that feeling you get when you’re on vacation. After about four days you feel a pull to go home. Sure, you can distract yourself from it with revelry but it just grows stronger. And even as you regret your vacation winding down you feel a joy at the thought of being home. Sleeping in your own bed.
Well, the other day — Sunday, I think. I didn’t go to the public viewing. I needed a day. So I was here at home. It was a beautiful day. Perfect, but all I did besides staying in bed too long and taking a nap was to buy some clothes and groceries. I was here at home and I started to feel that pull. That gravity. To go home.
It kind of freaked me out because I didn’t know what to do. What do you do when you’re home and feel intensely homesick?
What do you do when you intensely miss someone while that someone is sitting right there with you? Kind of like that.
As one of my aunts said recently, families have to learn how to let their loved ones go.
And so passes Arthur the Noble, son of Donald the Great Chief and Lucine the Light. Arthur the Noble and Edythe, Warrior for the Good, begat Tracey the Fighter and Gary the Mighty Spearman.
At the military cemetery they don’t let the family get out to stand around for the burial. You watch from your car. At the front, in the limousine, we were probably the only ones who could see the actual burial. After the folding of the flag and military send off we carried my father back to the hearse. It drove off to the grave site and the workers unloaded the coffin and put straps on the edges to be lifted by a bulldozer. The coffin was lifted and placed in a vault. The vault was lifted and placed in the grave. All in all it took about two minutes. Clean, efficient and just like that Daddy was interned, as they say.
I registered on Ancestry.com a few months ago. It confuses me, but I suppose this is a good time to get some questions answered about the family and put all the pieces together. View the old photograph albums. It makes you think.
There are a lot of ancestors waiting to be remembered.
Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.