The funeral

My iPad won’t have access to the Internet before I get back to Los Angeles two days from now. So this will seem out-of-date when it’s posted.

Note: we will call my aunt/cousin “Fleur” in this blog.

Tuesday began cold with a stiff wind from the sea. With little central heating, my aunt’s house seemed freezing to me. She and I dressed and walked down to the beach for a breakfast coffee and a chat. The skies were dark and the rain was spotting by the time we arrived at the small cluster of shops. It seemed a fitting day for a funeral.

Having learned the Australian names for the coffee variants, I was able to order without a long discussion this time. Fleur and I sat outside, under cover, as the rain tilted down. As always, chatting with her knows only the boundaries of time. She and her late husband were perhaps the ideal couple. His sudden loss a year ago while on vacation still hurts all of the family.

When the rain eased, we walked the long way back to the house that Fleur and her husband were to retire to. Another one of those wonderful long, hot showers. I put on my dark suit and tie, my black shoes. I was ready.

We picked up my brother and headed north towards Melbourne (Springvale) for the funeral. The weather cleared as we drove. This might have been my superpower at work again as all other predictions for rain switched to cool but sunny days.

On the way, my mum called my aunt’s cell phone to say that there had been some kind of major argument between the girls at home, and my wife had to get out of bed and leave her apartment to go deal with it. Amélie wanted me to call her immediately. I told my mum to call Amélie back and tell her that today this was her problem to resolve; I wasn’t interested. (Note: my dad requested that my mum not attend the funeral.)

There was a surprising turnout and I was kept busy saying hello to dad’s friends, the parents of school friends, and old friends of mine or my brother.

The celebrant came up and introduced himself, and asked my brother and I to accompany him. We were ushered into the chapel.

And there he was. His coffin seemed so small from a distance. This was the first time I almost lost it completely.

We were given some time to spend alone with the coffin as the distant phone calls of a death in the family shimmered into a hard oak reality.

Without me really noticing, everyone else came in. We were shown to our places in the front row and the service started. A mournful song chosen by dad almost caused me to lose it completely again.

When it was time, my brother got up for his speech. He is very uncomfortable with speaking in public but he painted a tearful and evocative word picture of my dad.

I had nowhere to print the eulogy so this iPad came with me to the podium. I ran through the comments I had prepared and added some side notes I thought of as I went along.

It really wasn’t until he died that I gave serious thought to how he was as a father. He kept a distance because of his upbringing. But he didn’t beat us, get drunk, gamble away our money, treat us poorly, or abandon us in any way. There was always food on the table and we had some fabulous vacations as part of growing up. He was always rational when we did some really stupid thing (and there is a really long list just for me — I am so grateful none of my girls are like I was as a kid). I had more to be grateful for than I ever noticed before. Because it’s a requiem for him, I’ll ignore the nasty fights with my mum and I’ll ignore the times he walked out, leaving me to wonder if he would ever return.

My cousin Vincent spoke, as did the daughters of my dad’s partner. They all brought different views of my dad and I realized that in the 18 years since I left Australia, he had touched many lives.

The service finished with another song he had chosen and the coffin was lowered out of sight, adorned by the yellow roses he grew himself. I almost it lost completely again.

(Some of you might wonder why I didn’t let myself lose it completely. I had nothing to ashamed of — it was my dad’s funeral. I know. I have a personal preference for grieving in private, but that wasn’t it. I just wasn’t sure whether or not I would be able to get it together again if I did let myself go.)

After the service, there was a reception in a big room near the chapel and we all chatted quietly as a group until they told us if we didn’t go home, the gates would be closed and we’d be stuck for the night. OK then…

With that, the formalities were over. Very intense, very emotional, and finalized quicker than seemed right.

But it’s not really finalized. He might be gone but he’s not forgotten. As with my aunt’s husband, he will be in conversations for years to come. His memoirs will be read by my descendants. My grandfather’s name will live on in infamy for treating his kids so poorly. My dad’s story, along with others, show war’s impact on ordinary folk.

For a lot of this I was on auto-pilot. I could see and hear what was going on, but I wasn’t really processing it. The long flights, the disorienting changes in time zones, the unfamiliar surroundings, the lack of sleep, the finality of the funeral, the quirk of having my mum excluded. It’s too much to take in so quickly. I was overloaded. And that’s not counting the situation back at home.

Be assured, I’m going to be OK.

My younger girls are back at school. My older girl is taking a semester off college and already has a job. The girls have learned they can’t run a house without a parent.

I am going to finish my two big projects at home then reflect on what things are most important to me.

Many months ago I suggested to Lady E that we both aim to be ‘well’ by the end of the year and be ready for whatever new beginnings await us in our own lives. The deadline was arbitrary, but I’m going to try to meet that goal anyway. I’m going to be ready for 2012. The new me. Older, wiser, maybe more ‘complete’.

Just to show you that there is always the ‘me’ that looks at life from a funny angle, I’ll discuss the songs my dad chose. They’re terrible. They’re slow. They’re soppy. I’ve forgotten their names already fortunately. I’m pleased; he hasn’t ruined any songs I like. I’d like to think he did this deliberately…but I think his taste in music was just that bad.

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About Single Dad

I married young. Now, after more than 20 years of marriage, 3 wonderful daughters, and many ups and downs, my wife has decided the marriage is over. The "About Me" and "My Background" pages on my blog have more details.
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16 Responses to The funeral

  1. Lady E says:

    Oh Sean…I’m not sure what to say this time. Reading this post is heart wrenching. Yet somehow, I know you will make your goal of being better for the next new year because you are an amazing man, and you seem to have taken all of your dad’s better sides. He can be well proud of you.
    Take care x

    • Our little blog community has been so open about so many things that it seemed right to share some of this. I knew before I started it would be impossible to predict how I would feel or how events would unfold. I’ve some distance to go before I’m going to be “better” though. Are you also going to try for the same completely arbitrary goal of being ready for 2012?

  2. mysterycoach says:

    You will be okay, take some time for yourself though to grieve if you can when you get back home. After my father’s death, I would cry at various times for up to two years. I’d be fine, it would hit me and poof. More tears of sadness… we can’t expect to be strong all the time. We’re human…

    • Thanks MC. Having 3 active girls at home and returning to a small basement flood doesn’t exactly lend itself to taking time for myself though. 🙂 You’ve got the right idea though!

      You mentioned grieving for some time and how it affected you. I think, for my dad, it will be a little different. Unlike my mum, who I am much closer to, I see a full and complete life in my dad’s passing. I don’t see something taken early and unexpectedly. Maybe it means I see his story as more complete. The funny thing is, he was always my buddy, someone I could talk to, but he never really took to my runaway wife or the girls. He never established a relationship with them. My mum has and, when something happens to her, she will be missing out on seeing new things my girls do…and that will be heartbreaking. So, for me, it’s much harder to imagine my mum being gone than my dad. I hope that doesn’t sound cold.

      • It doesn’t sound cold at all, but really very healthy and aware. Some lives feel unfinished and taken too soon while others feel that they’ve run a natural course within our own lives. I think there is a real difference between people who are still vital to us every day (like your mum) and those with whom we share a history and a love, but who are not a part of our every day emotionally (like your dad). Good for you for being able to find some clarity in your grief. It will help.

  3. Caroline says:

    All I can do is re-iterate what the others have said. Allow yourself to grieve. You have wonderful memories and with time the pain of loss will go.

    x

  4. backonmyown says:

    I got a chuckle out of your last paragraph.

    The “new you” is already presenting himself in your writing. I’m so sorry you’ve lost your dad but he will ever be with you and in you. You have managed this tragedy with grace. I salute you.

    Let yourself grieve.

    • Thanks BOMO.

      The “new me” seems to be a shadowy figure that comes and goes when he feels like it. My theory is that he will one day just hang around and take over. I’ll be pleased to be rid of the more erratic me…

      I also wrote a longer response for MC that’s relevant to your kind thoughts too.

      Cheers, SD.

  5. TikkTok says:

    *However* you grieve is right. No one has the right to tell you how or when. No two caterpillars becomes butterflies at the same time. So it is, too, with grief and change. You sound like you are completely on your way to being ready when change has arrived!

    • Thanks TT.

      I’m as ready for becoming ready for a new/better life as I was once for puberty. Alas, in this case, checking for a new and more stable me is harder than checking for signs of puberty.

      And, before I leave you with too many eye-wrenching images, I’ll stop adding more…. 🙂

  6. Surrey gal says:

    I don’t know what to say, because what is there to be said in a situation like this… people are strong, and they survive so much if they have to.. stay strong.

    • Hi SG.

      The ony thing I cannot do is “stay strong” and, frankly, it pisses me off. I can be Mr. OK for some time then — boom — back to Mr. Flaky. Grrr! How long before you found yourself stable. And, if the answer is 4 years, DON’T TELL ME THE TRUTH! Lie to me! Say “6-9 months”. Thank you.

      • Surrey gal says:

        You are strong. You just can’t see it yet, or don’t believe it. Mark my words, in a year you will look back and think to yourself: Gosh, I was such a strong person, how on earth did I go through all this?
        Mr Flaky is ok, we are human, we change on daily basis.

  7. goyagrrl says:

    Hello SD,
    I am catching up on my blog reading. Oh, I so feel for you – At my dad’s funeral, I remember looking at his body in the coffin and feeling so……confused, in a way, because I just kept thinking “but that’s not really HIM” in there. I mean, I knew it was him, but not HIM – you know?
    So bizarre. I did not “lose it” until much later.
    Hang in there. Resist the temptation to “aim” to “be well”, if at all possible. In my opinion, it actually lengthens the process and makes it much more tortuous (well at least in my experience.)
    big hug, gg

  8. losing bee says:

    I’m so sorry to read of your dads passing…

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