Dad’s Story Part 11
The day dad would have turned 58 years old was the day we buried him. No, believe it or not, we did not choose this day to be weird or odd. It was actually the most convenient. Practical for everyone. But to tell you the truth we all did think it was a bit quirky and perfect to bury him on his birthday.
After all, weren’t we doing this in celebration of his life?
We even made a cake.
The night before the actual funeral was what they called….dun…dun…duuuunn….. the viewing. I called it forced creepiness. I’ve never been one to go to these…come to think of it, I had actually never gone to one. I do know that I have purposefully refrained from walking past the coffin at every other funeral I attended. I just don’t get it. But it was decided that this one of the funeral activities so, like the good daughter to this man I was, I participated without a complaint.
The viewing wasn’t the first time I had seen my father in a coffin. Yeah, I know, how many of you guys can actually say that sentence???? Years ago, like eleven or so, when I was about 18, my dad volunteered to be the dead guy in our church’s Halloween “Lets-Scare-the-Hell-Out-Of-Everyone-And-the-Heaven-Into-Them” version of a haunted house. He had warned me ahead of time about his role. But, man oh man, seeing the guy in an actual coffin was pretty disturbing. As I walked through the room masquerading as a funeral home I could see the tip of my dad’s nose peeking out of the top of the casket. He had on makeup to make him appear lifeless…not frightening or bloody like typical haunted house characters…just pale and clammy looking. He was lying very still. He took his role extremely seriously. Well, most of the night that is…. I heard at one point he did suddenly open up his eyes and glare at a girl sending her into a tizzy. But, while I was standing next to him he didn’t move a muscle. Not twitching. I don’t even think he was breathing. I suspect someone told him I was coming in. I stood over him and actually thought that one day this would be happening for real.
I bet I was more freaked out than that girl.
But, the evening of the viewing, because I had already seen Dad in a coffin, I was prepared.
So there I was, at the viewing, doing just that….viewing my dad…in a coffin….again.
He didn’t look like my dad. He looked like some bloated grayish version of the man I once knew. He was all decked out in a suit and tie. His hands were folded on his belly. There were still ink marks on his fingers from that night he was attempting to write me a note but didn’t have enough control of his hands and ended up marking all over himself. It was the night he, in his own wonderful way, told me he wanted that damn tube removed from his body. It was the night he indirectly told me he would rather die than be hooked up to anything that would keep him alive. It was the night I knew I loved this man more than myself. It was the night I had to put my feelings of wanting to keep him alive below what he wanted.
These marks on his hands…so bittersweet.
So there I stood over his casket all fluffy and padded…a perfect place to rest. I placed my hands over his, holding on to him for the last time. He didn’t feel real. He didn’t look real. I wished we had cremated him.
I leaned down close so that I could speak right into his ear. I whispered, “Thanks. Thanks, Dad, for leaving me here…without you…. with all of these nuts.” I know, I know…he couldn’t actually hear me…it was more for my own entertainment. But in my head I could hear him….Laughing his wonderfully loud beautiful mocking laugh, saying, “You’re sick, Janelle.” I’m sure I had a goofy smirk on my face as I turned around and walked away from the casket. Silly. Twisted. Odd. Sick. We were like that.
The rest if the evening I mingled with other mourners. Lots of family. Lots of friends. I felt like I was on an episode of This Is Your Life except we were missing the guest of honor. So many stories were told. Many I had heard throughout my life a million times but a lot of new ones too. It was wonderful hearing other people’s stories of my dad.
One of my friends showed up with her daughter. The little girl was just about 8 or so. Very young to be at a non family members viewing. She had this thing for my dad. A crush of sorts. He was always good with the ladies…even the young ones. He was quite charming and Macy wanted to say good bye.
At first she clung to her mom and just peeked up at me. Her big brown eyes said so much. I could see her processing everything. She was sad. A different sad than I was experiencing. More like the sadness one has when losing a pet. She was also curious. I watched her taking in all that was going on around her…to be honest…for such a typically somber occasion, the place was hopin’! True Randy form.
Macy’s mom, another huge Randy fan, tried to coax her to go up to the casket with her. She just shook her head. I told her mom to go ahead and that I would hang out with Macy. As she walked away I squatted down to Macy’s level. I thanked her for coming and for being such a special little lady to my dad. We spoke a bit about him quietly. She kept looking towards the front of the room, but she wasn’t looking for her mom. She was trying to get a peek at her buddy laying there lifeless.
“Do you want me to go up there with you?” I asked. I don’t know why she agreed to go with me and not her mother, but it sure made my day. It was really neat seeing her curiosity get the best of her. So innocent.
I had seen my dad do things like this before.
She was helping me as much as I was helping her.
As we approached him I told her that he looked different. She agreed. I didn’t sugar coat anything. I let her check him all out. She wasn’t scared…she was fascinated. It was wonderful….I hope one day, when Macy looses someone closer to her that my dad also helped her… like he did so many years ago in that haunted house with me.
The next day was the funeral. We kicked it off by gathering at the cemetery for a short service with just family and very close friends. As I drove over “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” by Guns N Roses played on the radio. Awesome.
The cemetery was where I got to meet Donny, Dad’s childhood friend, for the first time since I was a child. He gave me a big bear hug and I felt like I had known him my entire life…well…so I had known him my entire life…but now on a different level. It was astonishingly comforting having him near.
We kept the burial part short and sweet. The pastor said a few words then asked if anyone would like to share. I know Donny said a few things….a shy and emotional man….he struggled through most of it. He and my dad were so alike. A couple of others said things, then Debbie’s brother spoke. He kept it simple. He said one of the things he observed about my dad was that he took notice of the little things and always said, “How neat!”
That stuck out to me more than anything of that day. I can still hear my dad’s voice say it…It was his tagline…..he had a very distinct way of saying it.
Man, I miss him.
The memorial service was held later that day at church. After the pastor greeted everyone and opened up with some words it was my turn. Yes. I was nervous. I don’t think I ever spoke to a crowd as big as the one in front of me. I didn’t wear the traditional funeral attire of basic black or anything formal…I wore a simple white blouse, a bright red beaded necklace, simple red flats, and jeans. It was the outfit I had on that hot Sunday afternoon that my dad said I looked nice. I felt comfortable. As I glanced around the room I saw so many familiar faces. I was nervous, but confident. I took a deep breath, glanced at my notes, and began with, “My dad was a nut.”
It was the same line I had come up with that afternoon so many years ago when my dad had called me and casually asked what I was doing and I told him I was writing his eulogy.
After I spoke Joel sang a song. He had insisted on sitting on the end so that he could zip up on the stage without any hassle. Rather than use a traditional microphone he used one of those fancy headsets…yes…like Madonna and those boy bands use. He wanted his hands free so he could use his arms when he sang. I found it rather entertaining. Dad would have loved it. He was followed by words from the other siblings…Michelle, then Mike.
I cannot for the life of me remember what my sister said. But I do remember what she looked like. She looked beautiful and confident and grown up. Later, years later actually, we both decided that this was the turning point in our lives, Dad dying. Not college graduation or real jobs or marriage or home ownership or babies had made us feel this way. All through childhood and our teen years we ached to be adults….and now, we are grown up at last.
I think I would prefer to stay in Neverland.
Mike spoke completely unscripted, although, no one would ever have guessed. He talked about Dad’s last moments and breaths and how peaceful it was. When Mike finished, the pastor shared a bit about “Are you ready?”. That was kind of the theme of the service. Do most funerals have themes???? Well, ours did.
After the slideshow and closing we all gathered for food and fellowship. Since it was actually Dad’s birthday we had a dear friend make a cake. About a week before he passed away, Debbie and Dad were talking about things and Dad said he couldn’t wait to go fishing with Jesus. So on the cake our friend made a stream out of frosting. Along the banks of the stream were some rocks, on them….. just a fishing hat and pole. It was quite amazing.
We played music that Dad loved or that reminded us of him…..Elvis, The Beach Boys, Sinatra….some songs….Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone…..Shaddup You Face….stuff like that.
Later that day, someone came up to me, and with a very sincere heart, said, “That was the best funeral I’ve ever been to!”
Well, of course it was.
Leaving the church, saying goodbye to family and friends…and dad….it all seemed to abruptly finish like an old reel film tearing off mid movie….the motor still running, spinning the reel as the film flaps around….flp-flp-flp-flp-flp……..