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 So this will seem out-of-date when it’s posted.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.