Bellbottom Blog

Scratching A Writing Itch From Time To Time

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

Notes From A Funeral

This past weekend, my family went to my hometown for the funeral of my Dad.

My wife, daughter, grandson and I made the trip up there arriving at about 3 in the morning.

My son came up after he got off from work arriving at about 7.

For the first time in my life, there was no family home to go to.  We had to sell it in order for my Dad to receive the best care possible. So we rented a couple of hotel rooms.  It is strange to be treated like someone from out-of-town in your hometown.

The visitation was from 2-6 which meant we were all operating on very little sleep. But the family has to be there an hour earlier to make sure everything is where we wanted it.  Flowers. Pictures. That gives us some privacy while we deal with the reality of what is happening.

When we knew Dad was going to a assisted living facility, I argued for him to move closer to us.  He would have been able to make the trip and we could have seen him on a regular basis.  In fact, there is such a facility just 3 blocks from our house. He could have seen the grandchildren.  If anything was needed, we would have been able to get there quickly.  I lost that argument with my brothers who decided he could remain in his hometown.  They said there would be enough family and friends to visit him.  There was a lot of yelling (by me) but they got their way.  I will always regret that decision and my inability to change their minds.

As a result of this, my kids hadn’t seen their grandfather since December.  My son spent his 21st birthday visiting his grandpa that month. Both kids had spent thousands of hours over the years with both of their grandparents and they had a special bond that was both rare and beautiful.  Mom and Dad taught them so much over the years.

Eventually, mourners appeared.  We exchanged the usual handshakes and hugs.  Tears flowed. Stories were shared. Laughter found its way in. Our grandson entertained people by performing a series of somersaults.

Almost all of my cousins came.  They had all been in our spot at sometime in their lives as Dad was one of the last survivors from his generation in our family.  His two sisters, each a little older than him, were there.  He was their baby brother at the tender age of 86. They are respectively 90 and 93.  Both of them still sharp.

With about an hour to go, a small woman came up to me and introduced herself as a distant relative.  My grandfather, for those of you who haven’t read any other of the pieces about my Dad, was a miserable SOB.  So much so that the Catholic Church gave  my grandmother permission to divorce him.  In the forties, when that was rarely done.  Well, granddad went to Ohio, remarried, and had several more children, a descendant of whom was now in front of me.

Turns out she is the genealogist in that branch of our rather misshapen family tree.  An absolutely delightful person. We chatted for quite a while. Fortunately for her, the genealogist in our part of the family was there as well so I brought them together.

I kept track of the number of people who said they visited Dad. I know it seems petty but I did. The number was low.

All in all, the time went well. If you ever wonder about the effect words of condolence have, let me assure you, they mean a lot.  They really do.

Afterward we went out to eat at our favorite wings place and drove around the town revisiting my parents former houses and the first house my wife and I lived in.  The kids fell asleep almost immediately when we started the journey. We wanted to take the drive to remember better days and to say goodbye.

The day of the funeral, just a few minutes before the service was about to start, a woman came up to me and asked if I was one of Dad’s children. I replied that I was the oldest. She then proceeded to tell me that she had shared a pew with Dad several times during Sunday Mass.  They had both lost their respective spouses around the same time 5 years earlier.  Then she dropped this on me.

She said Dad had proposed to her a couple of years ago.

She said, “I told him. I know how much you miss your wife.  If we were in our sixties, maybe we could consider it, but we should just remain friendly.”

I told her how glad I was to hear her story and thanked her for her kindness to my Dad.  (My mind was reeling. As my wife asked, “Who tells that kind of story just before a funeral?”)

She took a seat near the back of the church.

We all filed in and the service started.  Everything was fine until the eulogy.

When Mom died, all three brothers were in the room when stories were requested for the priest to put together the eulogy. For this one I had submitted a story to my youngest brother by phone.  He wrote it down. (It’s the one at the end of my last post if you are curious.)

Not only was that story not used, the priest went on at some length about how noble it was for Dad to resist all entreaties to move to another town in his last months on earth.  I mentioned in that last post, I believe, how much we as a family treasure getting the last word.  In this case, one or both of my brothers had used the priest to get that precious last word  from the pulpit.

I was stunned.  What was the thought process behind that?  It felt like a big eff you to my family.  As I shifted around in my seat, my wife said later she thought I was going to get up and walk out.  I didn’t think it would be appropriate to do that. So many family members were here to pay their respects making myself the focal point would have been wrong.  I was raised to be better than that.

When the service was over, the priest was sitting in the lobby and I watched my brothers thank him for his efforts.  When one lingered a little too long, I had my answer to the eulogy question. The quote “I know it was you Fredo.” went through my head.

We all went to our respective cars for the trip to the cemetery. As we were leaving the church parking lot, I glanced at the front of the church.  Behind the door was the woman to whom Dad had proposed.   She watched the hearse drive off.

There was a quick ceremony in the chapel at the cemetery. Taps was played. I received the flag that was draped over my father’s coffin.  We invited the mourners to lunch in the back room of a local Italian restaurant.

I shared a table with my family. People came over during the meal to offer condolences.  Fredo worked the room like a game show host.

After the meal, we had one last round of goodbyes with everyone, then it was back to the hotel room to check out.

On the way out of town, we stopped back at the cemetery to visit the grave site.  The workmen had already done their job. Dad was next to Mom.

I gave a quick history lesson on the names that were in the adjoining spots. Some going back to the mid-1800’s when the plots were purchased.

As I left, I said what I used to tell them when we would leave after a visit.

“Behave yourselves.”

___________________________________________________________________________________________

I do want to thank the people who read the last post and said such kind things on Twitter.  I treasure every comment you left me.

Peace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dad (1927-2013)

I wrote about Dad a few times over the brief history of this blog.

Around four in the morning Wednesday, Dad passed away.

His illness finally won its cruel battle with him. He was receiving hospice care. Morphine kept him as comfortable as possible. 

He had been hospitalized in November.

Eventually, he had recovered enough to be in assisted living for the last several months. 

For a man as active as Dad was over his 86 years, this last stretch seems unusually unfair.  He fought a losing battle bravely without complaint.

Vascular degeneration is the official villain here. 

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

Years ago, my parents drew up a will and left my youngest brother in charge of things.  They gave him detailed instructions of where all the accounts and policies were.  When Mom died, six years ago, Dad was able to handle all of that.  This time, the burden fell to my brother. 

He had to figure out the best place for care and how to pay for it. 

The kind of care Dad needed was expensive so the house was sold in the hope that the money would extend enough to give Dad the best care available. 

And my brother had to do all that while still holding down a full-time job. He took the challenge and performed admirably.

I would suggest to anyone reading this: Take the time to do what my parents did. Doing that ahead of time gives the person a chance to figure things out without the stress that accompanies a debilitating illness.

END OF PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

Dad has a wonderful mind for making and fixing things. He built workbenches, fences, sheds.  In his mid ’70’s, he replaced all the siding on their ranch-style house. He had never done that before, so he studied it for months. When he was sure he could do it, he tackled the project single-handed.  

The one thing he couldn’t fix or change was Mom’s death. She died suddenly the morning after Thanksgiving almost six years ago.

Thanksgiving night, she told him she didn’t feel well.  

At 9:00 that night, he took her to the nearest hospital. It was just five minutes away.  She WALKED into the emergency room.  My wife and I were pulling up as she did that.  Over the next few hours, guesses were made as to what was wrong. A cardiologist made some initial tests.  When it seemed everything was going to remain the same with her, Dad went home for a few hours of sleep. 

As we walked through the parking lot he mentioned that he hated to leave her there. 

About six in the morning, we got a call from the hospital.  Things had gotten worse. We hurried back. My wife and kids joined us.

Mom had stabilized enough for them to move her to run some tests.

At nine o’clock, an ashen-faced cardiologist told us he had “the worst news”. Mom had 20 minutes to live. She lasted 21.

Dad was devastated.  He went over the last twelve and a half hours of Mom’s life for the rest of his.  He seemed convinced there was a solution. Maybe a different hospital. Maybe he should have taken her there earlier.  Maybe….maybe….

There was no convincing him that he did all he could. “I know what you are saying, but…”, his voice would trail off.

Well, he has peace now. No more pain. No more regret.

For the first time in my 57 years, there is no parent to call with good news. No one to ask for advice.  No one to trade well-worn stories with.

That is how life works.

Knowing that doesn’t make this any easier.

Sunday, we will make the drive to my hometown and spend a few hours consoling people who are trying to console us. Monday, the funeral.

He was in the military at the end of WW ll, so there will be a military presence . Taps will be played. Tears will flow.

We will make our way from the funeral to a nearby restaurant where stories will be shared.  The atmosphere will be lighter, People will laugh as a release.

Dad taught me that.

When my great-grandmother died, Dad was a pallbearer.

As he and one of my Mom’s cousins walked away from the funeral, their duties fulfilled, the cousin said to Dad,”You weren’t lifting your share.”

Dad said, ” That’s why I get in the middle.”

One last thing:

At the hospital, when Dad was becoming aware of what his future held he said something that I thought was simple and profound. 

I would hope everyone could say this at the end.

Usually, I end these posts with the word “Peace”. 

Today, Dad gets the last word. 

He said, “I can’t complain, I’ve had a good life”.

 

 

 

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