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.
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.
This is such a beautiful piece. You have such a warm and funny spirit that even though I was sad to hear your father had passed, I smiled many times as I read this. I managed to bring my mom to live by me when she could no longer be on her own much to the consternation of my siblings. It’s been four years since she died and my brother still has not forgiven me. Aren’t families fun?
Thanks so much for the kind words, Diane. My Dad had to find a place for his Mom a long time ago over the protests of his sisters. They had a 15 year silence that was eventually broken so we have something to shoot for.
I do worry, once something (eventually, as little as I like to think about it) happens to my parents, what kind of nonsense will happen in my family. I have a lot of “this is mine NO IT’S MINE!” family members, and also a lot of “THIS IS THE ME SHOW, STARRING ME!” family members…so funerals are fun.
Sounds like you got through it with grace, John – but I expect nothing less from you. You always do. You’re a class act; if others can’t behave themselves…well, they have to sleep with that on their conscience at night. Yours is clean, you know?
Keeping you and your family in my thoughts.
Thanks, Amy. I wasn’t really surprised by much of what happened when I had some time to think about the whole situation. Now we have some debate ahead about who gets what. My wife and kids have some specific things they would like. After that…….I’m done. Time to move on. Thanks again for the kind words.
This is a beautiful post.
Yes, families can be a strange bunch. I don’t there’s a single family in the whole world that doesn’t have these kind of issues and conflicts. Good on you for keeping your cool and standing above it all. In the end, what matters is what you know is true, not what people say.
Again, so sorry you lost your father.
Thank you so much for the kind words. You are probably right about families.
I am so very sorry for your loss. I know it’s late in coming, but it is still sincere. I admire your strength in not saying something to your brothers. I don’t know if I would have been able to abstain.
Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for the comment. Something as nice as that is never late. I appreciate it very much.