Friday, May 29, 2009

One Week

Last night, Mom told me (gently) that I need to (at some point) get back to writing about the wedding and the honeymoon, so I'm using this morning to finish the funeral week. Doesn't mean I won't still write about Daddy or any random feelings, but it does mean I'm going to move forward... by moving backwards. :) I see Mom's point-- in spite of all the bad, we have to remember the good. That said, I have one more post for last week. Here goes.
One week ago today, I was about to wake up and get ready for my Dad's funeral.

We started the morning by all the kids, spouses, and Mom going to the funeral home to "view" Daddy. While Mom and I had seen him in the hospital, it didn't seem fair to ask the other kids to have their private moment with Daddy a few mere minutes before we were inundated with well-wishers and family friends going through their own private grieving process. So that morning, the "out-laws," as we call our spouses' parents in this family, all showed up to babysit the kids that morning, including B's parents who, so far as we know, have no grandbabies to speak of in the family just yet! They were amazing, stepping right in to help the other grandparents with snack time, naps, sandbox play, and playing with cars, apparently.

Everyone loaded up and off we went to the funeral home, where we spent about an hour and a half telling stories and sharing Dad memories while we sat in the room with him. On our way out, the director said, "I came back there to get onto my staff for cutting up, then realized that the laughter was coming from your room, which is just how this morning should be-- full of memories and shared times." Lloyd said something that really made me think, "One reason this is so sad is that it's the last time we'll all be together. Even when we get to Heaven, we won't want our kids to be there already." Spoken like a true parent! I liked his wife's point even better. She said, "You know who the happiest person was the day your Dad died? His Mom. You know she saw him coming and got the oven going to start dinner." That's the visual I'm sticking with.

We headed home to get lunch and regroup before the funeral. As I was setting out food and paper plates, B caught me and took me outside, where I promptly lost it, dissolving into sobs. "How did you know?" I asked. "Well, you were acting like me in my manic stage," he said. "Rushing around, starting everything, but not finishing anything. Let other people help."

So I did, and he got a plate for us, which we ate before changing into our clothes for the funeral. We drove Mom, arriving at 1:30. I was setting up the slide show when the boys (B, my brothers, my brother-in-law, and my uncle) carried Daddy into the church. We didn't want the pallbearers to have to be there that early, and the boys said they wanted to do it. Good men, these guys.

By the time I walked back in, the casket was in place and open again and well wishers had already started to arrive to the visitation portion of the day. We spent the next two hours receiving hugs and thoughtful stories as family friends, coworkers, and relative strangers (to us, anyway, but friends of Dad's) moved down the line.

At 3:50, the funeral director lined us up and got us ready to walk into the church. I'd been pretty much ok until then, but started to feel the tears creep back up. Then, as we entered, a resounding strain of "Dwelling in Beula Land" echoed through the somber hall of the church, the first sign, my sister said later, that people probably had no idea what they were in for. In truth, that was Daddy's favorite song, or at least the one he sang in the shower everyday. We loved it, because once we looked up the words, we realized he had half of them wrong and the ones he didn't know, he hummed. We were also shocked that it didn't say to go up half an octave, or to repeat the chorus "ad nausem." Gotta love Daddy. The song was just what we needed to get us all down the aisle in one piece.

We walked in and that's when it hit me: the casket was closed. I should've known it would be, otherwise we'd be looking at the top of Daddy's head during the entire funeral, but I hadn't realized that the visitation would be my last time to see him, ever. Without much time to think, I walked up onto the stage with the other siblings and listened while Lloyd gave the eulogy, Kristi shared a few memories, and Todd briefly spread the gospel message. We sat and my tears began, slowing at the first song, raging through the minister's message, and staining B's shirt as we recessed behind Daddy's casket.

I pulled it together outside and we again received dozens of hugs and shoulder squeezes before heading to the burial site, where we sat while the minister said a few words, then concluded the ceremony. The drive to the ceremony will stick with me for a while. B was behind the wheel, following closely behind the hearse (God bless him), while Mom and I sat talking quietly. At one point, Mom looked behind her and said, "Wow, that's a lot of cars." and B said, "Keep watching, they go for at least a mile." And they did. A favorite thing of mine in Alabama, and maybe they do it other places, too, is that when people see a funeral procession, they still pull off onto the shoulder and let you pass. For just a moment, the world, at least on the highway, stops to pay its anonymous respects, a nice symbol just before a grave-side ceremony. Before the lowering of the casket, each of us took a rose off Daddy's blanket to keep, a suggestion B's Dad had from his own Mom's funeral.

B and I drove Mom home, a different drive than the one from the church. No police escorts. Stoplights, and indeed reality, seemed to apply to us again. We arrived home to find B's parents hard at work setting out the meal that the church family had prepared for us. Bottles of wine materialized and we sat around sharing memories, laughs, and a few more tears.

I don't know the right way to say goodbye to Daddy. I don't know what he would've wanted. I think I can't, and I won't, at least for now. I'd rather think of him, at home in his pink chair, waiting for my call, as he always made me think he was doing.

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