Oh Yeah, We Put the “Fun” In Funeral

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DadSFDads Story Part 10

 The night after dad left us we ordered pizza.  Isn’t that what everyone does? My sister and I stopped by a local restaurant that Dad always took us to, usually individually.  He was good about that.  He always carved out time for each of us.  Quality and totally focused time just for us.

******

When I was in fifth grade Dad took me to San Francisco.  We caught a Giants Baseball Game in historic Candlestick Park. We sat up at the top and turned into popsicles. The wind from the bay whipped at our faces. My cheeks hurt from the sting.  After the game we walked a bit up the sloped one way streets.  I remember there was a lot of construction going on and Dad picked me up and carried me over the open trenches.  It was past 11 p.m.  The city was abuzz with honking horns and bright lights.  We found an open restaurant and dad ordered us berry pie al a mode.  I was in heaven.  When we got back to our little hole in the wall walk up boutique hotel, the beds were turned down and there was chocolate on the pillows.  Outside the window were a fire escape and the busy town below. Everything was cozy and so cool. To this day these are by far my favorite kinds of places to stay.

The next day as we drove around town a woman came up to the car window and asked for some spare change to call her son long distance.  Dad gave her some bills.  As we drove away dad said she was probably going to buy some beer with it.  Hmmm…….I still think of that every time I see someone asking for change.  Sometimes I give them some even though I know there is a good chance it will be spent on a 40.

We spent the afternoon at the wharf.  There were mimes and magicians and those creepy silver guys that you only see move out of the corner of your eye.  One of my favorite pictures of the two of us was taken here. He and I had matching 1980s haircuts…him a fantastic mullet, me, a bi-level…the girl version of the mullet.  We were perfectly feathered.  Dressed in shortie-shorts and super tall knee socks, we looked pretty rad.

Later that afternoon we went back to the car to discover it had been towed.  The ten year old version of me started to panic. {The 29 year old version of me would panic just the same…if not more.) Absolute panic.  Not because of the missing car…but because my beloved stuffed monkey was packed in my suitcase in the trunk.  I think dad realized I was about to lose my mind and he snapped into superhero mode.  There happened to be a tow truck driver in the parking lot taking another car to the car-jail.  Dad convinced him to let us ride with him to where our car was.

Good news. The car was recovered and so was the monkey.  I never took him on a trip without carrying him right with me ever again.  Too risky.

That trip I fell in love with San Francisco…….and with my dad.

******

Dad did this individual trip of sorts for each of the four of us…no two trips alike.  Wonderful.

But this night, the night dad died, we were not individuals.  We were a team.  Janelle. Michelle. Mike. Joel.  We were in this together.  There was a lot left to do.  It was time to get down to business.  We had a funeral to plan.  I think we were able to immediately shift to this next step pretty quick because we already had so many days of grieving.

Pizza.  So casual. So normal.  I wonder if other families do such ordinary things after the most popular member of the clan dies.

We all met up at Dad and Debbie’s house.  Just us kids and Debbie.  It was so clear that Dad was missing…but, even still, we felt him all around us. That night we discussed what was to happen the next few days.  We put together an outline of the final things that needed to be taken care of.

And we laughed.

We laughed so hard we all cried.  We reminisced and made fun of each other. I don’t know how many inappropriate jokes and distasteful comments were made, but let’s just say the apples didn’t fall far from the tree.  Dad did an incredible job bringing such an eclectic group of children together.

I had never felt so close to my siblings or such deep feelings of family.

*****

The next couple of days we did all sorts of things necessary to plan a funeral.  We actually began this process a few days before dad died. That afternoon we had the meeting with the doctor about removing his breathing tube was the first time we got realistic about what was coming next.  It began with a brainstorming session of sorts when the doctor left the meeting to attend to the necessary protocol that comes with the decision we had all just made together.

That left us there, in that cold meeting room, to soak in the reality of what was to come. The practical people that we all were, we started discussing what kind of funeral would be appropriate.  Personally, I really didn’t care because the shell that would be left behind of my father was just that…a shell.  It wouldn’t be him.  He, my dad, would find his way into my soul and that’s where I wanted to keep him.  I was fine with whatever everyone else wanted.

Ironically, my dad, the guy who tastelessly always joked of death and dying, had never clearly stated what he really wanted.  Not even to Deb.   Honestly, I think it was because he really didn’t give a hoot.  He’d be gone.  It wouldn’t matter.  What we did we would be doing for us…the ones left behind.  Joel, my youngest little brother, summed it up best after we {meaning me} talked of cremation.  I thought, hey, let’s do that and take his ashes to the sea and let him go by one of the lighthouses he so loved to visit along Highway 1.

{I also was thinking each of us would get a tiny bit of his ashes to do what we wanted with…you know, like leave them in a little jar next to the salt and pepper on the counter or something…. Hey! Don’t judge. It would be totally acceptable in my nutty family. Totally.}

Anyways…back to Joel.  After discussing cremation, Joel looked a bit unnerved.  He stated that he didn’t think that was a good idea since the grandkids, mine and my sister’s children, wouldn’t be able to see him before he was sent to sea.  We were standing up, getting ready to leave when he said this.  I just looked at him.  Right in the eyes.  Eyes full of tears.  I said, “Joel.  I’m glad you spoke up.  Now we know what is important to you.  You have a strong opinion of what choice we make about this.  And it’s OK.  It’s OK, Joel.” {Or something like that.} What I remember most was the look of relief in his eyes .  The last two weeks had taken its toll on my amazingly strong littlest brother.  He needed to have his voice heard.

*******

The morning after Dad died I met Debbie and my siblings at the funeral home to go over all of those fun details.  I pretty much hung back since I had no preference of what type of wood was best for the casket or what time the viewing on Thursday would be.  Well, ok, I admit…I did have a bit of an opinion…I figured a pine box would do, preferably made of 2 x 4s.  He was a carpenter after all. But, alas, I kept my trap shut…I don’t think that would have won the majority vote.

Next were the flowers.  Yawn. Boring and odd.  The only times I have gone into a flower shops were for proms in high school and my wedding.  I always thought it was such a waste of money.  The flowers were just going to die anyways.  Ironic.

We decided to meet up again with Debbie later that afternoon at the cemetery to pick a spot to bury Dad.  She had some business to tend to first so Michelle, Mike, and I hit up a nearby hole-in-the-wall coffee shop for a bite to eat. We ordered breakfast. Sitting there eating and chatting was relaxing.  It was nice to just kick back for a few minutes.  We talked of dad…I told them about Dad telling me I looked nice that afternoon a week or so before and I pretended not to hear him so that I could hear him tell me again. When I told the story I did something really out of character…I said “daddy” instead of “dad”.  I don’t remember the last time I had called him that….it had slipped.  My sister let out a little gasp acknowledging my weakness.  The flood gates opened. That was the first time I cried since he had died.

I hated it.

******

Years ago, gosh…..let’s see….I’m 29 now so it must have been at least 14 years ago….I went to a funeral.  It was my stepmom’s grandmother’s.  I didn’t know her much but I went because it was the right thing to do.  After the church service was the burial.  The cemetery was way out along the edge of town at the base of the foothills.  On a clear day in the Central Valley of California the mountains could be seen behind the rolling fields just beyond the cemetery.  It was the same view my family had out our back yard in a house we lived in for a while out in the country.  Out of all of the houses Dad had, that one was my favorite.  We chose this cemetery for our dad.

Many people have memories of loved ones in the place they choose to bury them…meaning in the town or area….but few actually have memories of the lost one in the exact place they choose to bury them.  I mean the exact place….No one else can remember, but way back when, at my great step grandmother’s funeral, Dad decided to use that time for a teaching moment.  Debbie had gone ahead with her family to the reception. So it was just Dad and the 4 of us kiddos.  He paused before we got into the car {a black wood sided full size station wagon.  Fantastic…well, ridiculous is a better word actually} and told us to wait a few minutes.  Across the grass, where we had just left an old woman to be laid to rest were the cemetery workers.  You know those guys who hide in the shadows until the family is gone then they finish up the burial? They took notice of us and kind of hesitated.  My dad yelled to them to go on ahead.  So they kinda shrugged their shoulders and began the task of taking down the chairs and tent put up for the funeral attendees.  Then they removed all the nice coverings that hid the broken ground surrounding the open grave.  Again, they hesitated and glanced over to us.  “It’s ok, go ahead, it’s good for these guys to see what really happens.”  He looked over at me with a wild smirk as the bulldozer shoveled dirt over the casket. My mouth just dropped.

Who does this???

My dad. That’s who.

*******

We met up that hot and muggy afternoon at the cemetery.  The sun was scorching.  It must have been 105*.  Ick.  We wandered around a bit reading headstones and finding Debbie’s miscellaneous family members.  It was an old grave yard.  There were huge trees and graves dating well back into the 1800s.  So many fascinating things to see….funny names on tombstones along with graves of children with no names at all.  I can’t even imagine that being the norm.  The five of us wandered around in the heat for a bit.  The distraction of the interesting discoveries lasted a while but we all knew why we were there.  Where were we going to chose to put the body of the man we all loved so much? Quietly we wandered, each alone with our thoughts.  Besides the distant chirping of birds high up in the trees above, it was silent.  Almost like time stood still for a moment….then I heard a funny sound…chchchchchchchchchchch…..I looked up at my family and we all kind of realized what it was at the same time….sprinklers!  The kind that slowly move across the grass with a huge spray….chchchchchch……All around us water started to revolve…chchchchchchchch……Natural reaction is to move quickly out of the way…but due to headstones, the large standing kinds, and tree roots moving quickly was out of the question.  We all darted to and fro…chchchchchchch….sprinklers from every directions moving across us….chchchchchch…….

We were drenched!

Laughing and crying we were surrounded by awful grief and sadness yet right smack in the middle of it was love and amusement and happiness and family. It was beautiful….the kind I described a few chapters back.  Reflecting on this I realize now that this is one of my absolute favorite moments of my life. I cannot even begin to describe the feeling I had that day and that I’m having right now as I look back.  Beautiful.

When we finally managed to pull ourselves together and make it to dry land we paused and looked up at something that caught our eyes near the small building up the hill at the center of the cemetery.  A man wearing one of those golf style hats pulled low over his face stood there watching us for a split second.  Then he walked behind the building and was gone.

We all saw him.

But it was weird.  Really weird.  Though we know it was not possible, we joked that it was Dad…messing with us one last time….watching his family….his birds….

Running through the sprinklers in a graveyard.

********

The place we chose to lay our father to rest was right in the line of vision I had standing in front of the car that day watching a true burial.  He is just a few yards behind.  This was done on purpose.  I love that I have a crazy silly fun insane memory of my father alive at the same place he is now laying dead.  I love that I have another crazy silly fun insane memory with my family at the same place where my dad is now laying dead. I just do.  Call me a nut ….to me that’s actually a compliment.

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