Today marks two weeks since my daddy’s funeral. The passing of the time since then has had absolutely no relevance and no frame work but for numbers passing on the calendar. It is as though time has both stood still, and it has also rushed by in the blink of an eye. This past Thursday was Thanksgiving Day, and the first occasion for our family to celebrate this day, without our patriarch and pillar.
I am not the first to join this fraternity nor will I be the last, as all of us who are born to a mother and father, in due and natural course, will lose these rudders and be set adrift without them. The initiation to this passage can come in many ways, some harder to bear than others, but the result is the same. There is a deep surreality that I have never felt before, unlike any sensation that I have experienced before.
“How are you doing?” This is the question that I have been asked over and over in these past days since my father died. My answer is “fine, thanks” and am, on Level One. There are layers and layers of dealing with grief, and on this Level One, the rational takes over the heart and makes details happen, the act of keeping busy, distracted, keeps oneself pointed away from the abyss of the next level that eventually will find you and leave you, to deal with the emotion that has not been dealt with yet.
I wrote the blog entry “Atlas” over a year ago, and include the link for those who missed it or who know nothing of my father and his life. I also include a link to one of the many articles that were in the newspapers and on line, which give pretty good coverage to the external and public figure that he was. Perhaps they will fill in some gaps.
Thursday, the 10th, was the last time I saw my dad alive. He was sitting in his big overstuffed lounge chair, dressed in khaki pants and a pale green polo shirt. He was insisting, and had been all day, that someone, by golly, had better take him to the bank to cash a check. He said he needed some cash to cover some expenses and was not going to take no for any sort of answer. Any one who knew my father well would understand that he would hound you until you saw it his way. It was easier that way, and so as with most of his requests, it was granted. Someone drove him to the bank, and with mission accomplished, he was content for the day.
Friday morning his caregiver said he arose in a good mood and after breakfast wanted to get in his car and ride the streets of his beloved city that he shepherded as mayor for twenty two years, with a driver of course. Somewhere in the time line I heard that he got to smoke one of his beloved cigars or two, and even got to have a sip of vodka. Again, after lunch he demanded another ride around the town. (This is from a man who had been confined to bed for the previous weeks, and so this new energy was seen as a positive step in his improvement.) Improvement, it was not to be, at all, but a swan song with the last verse. He knew what it was, and he was glad the day had come. He had finished his detail. We learned later the reason for his demanding need to cash that check the previous day. It was to cover the wake that was to come.
Before heading to bed in the evening he stopped at my mother’s office and waved a goodbye to her, said that he loved her and hoped she would not be long behind him. He told mom’s caregiver to take care of his wife. Then he said he was going to bed to die. He had someone mark the day on the wall calendar as he made his way to his room. Once there, quite loudly the caregiver recounted, he said “Lord, take me.” She left the room after helping him lay down and returned in a few to check on him, and he was gone.
The day was appropriate in many ways. It was the first time someone had decided to honor Veterans on a Friday, and so it was fitting that this brave old soldier would die on the day commemorating all USA veterans. The date was also numerically a novel one that will only repeat itself in another hundred years, as the date was 11-11-11. The rising moon that evening was bright and it was full, and it was closely joined by an equally bright Jupiter with its circling moons. It was a good and memorable day to die, and so it was that this big man, chose this day. My youngest daughter had said some time back that she had thought that her Papa was a strong enough man to will himself to pass when he was ready, and so my daddy proved her right. He was.
I had not known these last things he had said and done that day until later, and was surprised when we got the call early on Friday evening after my spirited Thursday visit with him. We went quickly to my parents’ house and once there I went into his room. He lay quiet and still in his bed, with the look of being in a peaceful slumber, and I half expected a snore. I kissed his head and held his hand and trembled with the realization that this was really the big It. There was no going back from this point on, my daddy, my father, my bigger than life super hero, the person who got me here and took care of me to his end, was now gone, forever. My father had always told me to hold me head up high, but now my head was bowed.
Those of the family who were in town gathered and said our sad and last goodbyes in turn, then held hands around the bed and someone started a prayer. About halfway into the prayer, someone’s cell phone that had been laid on his now death bed, rang. The prayer continued, the call unanswered and the caller remains unknown. In light of several events that have happened in the next passing days, I am not so sure my daddy didn’t have a little something to do with it, looking back now.
We had anticipated his passing for nearly two years as his health had roller coaster ridden into a decline and so were basically prepared for the funeral and had covered many of those type details ahead of time. His life had covered many bases over his long span, and he had influenced great number of people. So we knew that the funeral would be attended by many, so our planning ahead was a good idea, but there still remained thousands more details to cover to pull off both an intimate family farewell and a fitting special event of a memorial service, and so we all got busy riding on that Level One I mentioned earlier, postponing that grief thing and moving forward.
We had planned to have first, a private service for family to include full Honor Guard services from the city, with a twenty one gun solute to honor the veteran that he was, and a kilted bag piper was lined up to play his favorite tune of “Amazing Grace”. The service done was short and very sweet as he would have wanted, after it was finished, the Honor Guard pulled the red, white, and blue flag from the gun metal gray casket and carefully folded until it was a crisp and perfect, and the Captain of the guard knelt to give to my mother. He whispered softly to her of his admiration and of his thanks to my father, whom he had served under on the police force for many years. Then he stood, and very slowly, raised a pristine white glove to a solid solute, his eyes never blinking, staring straight into hers. He turned with a snap and slowly marched to join the line of the others of the Honor Guard who stood in perfect attention on the opposite side of my father’s casket. One of the Guards, who had also served while under dad’s time in office, gave no flinch, but slow tears eased down his cheeks as they all stood there, ramrod straight, eyes straight ahead, “on guard” now for their fallen leader before them.
With a police motorcycle escort flying down the road ahead of us to block the intersections, in a coordinated precision that my father would have much approved of, our family proceeded to the church for the next phase which was to be a Memorial Service which was open to the public and to his many, many admirers and friends. Along the way we noted that every single car we passed was pulled to the side of the road, and pedestrians stopped in their tracks and gave quiet respect to his family passing by. It was humbling to see the city stopped while we moved along, each person honoring this great man.
My father was a brilliant man, his faith in his religion was immense, and his knowledge of the scriptures rivaled many scholars on the subject. We sat again on the front row of this church of his, just as we had done thirty six years ago when my other brother, David had been killed, in the church I had been raised in, but this time without my dad sitting with us. The service again was as he would have wanted, old time hymns, a few scriptures of comfort, a letter was read aloud that had been sent by a long time friend who could not attend, and then an amazingly eloquent eulogy was given by the past governor of our state and who was the last employer of my dad. It was a fitting and touching salutation of a service.
That day has gone by now, and since then, on a different note, a few things have happened which have been quite interesting and somewhat inexplicable like the mystery phone call at the most inopportune time. There was a period of time many years back now, that right after my brother’s death, things would be in a place and then, somehow, get moved with no explanation. Doors got locked and unlocked with equal mystery, etc. and there was a strong feeling that David, my brother was not quite gone just yet. So it is now with my dad's passing on.
The first of such happenings occurred the night after the funeral. Late at night, mom was asleep, and the caregivers on call heard what sounded like a golf ball being bounced down the brick floored hall past the kitchen. They went to see what was going on and found no ball, anywhere, but both definitely had heard it. The lamp in mom’s room flickered for no reason as it had never done, until mom said to turn “Emory” off. The grandfather clock doors were both opened, which requires a key to do so, also with no explanation. Our turn for the unexplainable was at our house.
Mark and I sat the other evening on the sofa, watching a show on the tv, and heard a loud plop behind us in the kitchen. Dogs nearby continued their sleeping and no doors were open to have let in a strong breeze, but there on the floor, well away from any possible place it could have fallen from, was a gift box of single malt scotches, dad’s favorites. We sat there in amazement and tried to make a rational explanation of what we had just witnessed, and there was no way we could. We laughed, and Mark said to the ghost of my father, “Oh, so it’s gonna be like that eh!” Again we laughed, and the comic relief of this gift helped ease the night along.
Last night “Dad” returned again, to my brother, who had been up very late from being awoken to go to my parents’ house to see about an alarm that had been set off, for no apparent reason. Upon finally getting to bed, and about to snooze, my brother said he felt an intense, but benevolent, chill and with eyes closed, saw dad’s face and my brother was given instructions to take care of our mom. Then he disappeared. About this same time period of night, I was sleepless and tossing, with a loop track of “Amazing Grace” going round my head for hours, and then it too stopped.
My father’s body lies deep under red dirt now with a stone to mark his place, but there is still some intangible connection that remains for now, real, imagined, or totally coincidental, but does remain, as a reminder of his intense energy, enormous sense of humor, and of his gentle and caring soul. I will hang on to these and many more memories for as long as I can. He was bigger than life, and, he will always be my daddy.