Thursday, August 11, 2005

Burying Carl


My dad was buried in the little town that I call my hometown. I haven’t lived there in over twenty years. In fact, I left right after I graduated high school and never really came back. But, it’s the town my mother’s family is from and is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a hometown.

My dad did not live there. He had lived in another city, about a half hour away for many, many years. However, Dad had left no funeral plans or instructions, and we had lived there as a family, so it seemed like a reasonable choice.

He is buried in the plot where my mother will also be buried one day. My grandfather bought all his kids two grave plots after my grandmother died. Mom had offered one to Dad when he was alive, and he accepted it.

In other words, my Dad was buried in a town where he did not live and will be sharing a grave with his ex-wife! It would take more time than I have right now to explain my parents’ relationship. Let’s just say that while they were not meant to be married, they did make really good friends.

There are so many things to think about with a funeral that you really don’t realize until you have to do it. An obit has to be written. Visitation must be planned. Clothes mutt be chosen. Someone has to do the service. And on and on and on.

My brother decided that he didn’t want some generic funeral home preacher and service for Dad. He wasn’t a particularly religious man, so there was no one to call who really knew him. My brother Danny volunteered to do the service himself. He’s not a minister, but he is a seminary student. It felt right to all of us.

He asked me to take over at the grave site so he could be a pall bearer. I’m not a minister, but I used to be a seminary student. I really had to grapple with my own spiritual issues quite a bit over this. I wanted so badly to do right by my dad, but I also wanted to be true to myself. I haven’t considered myself to be a Christian for a number of years now, although I’m hard pressed to really describe myself spiritually. Basically God is on one side and I’m on the other, and we don’t talk much.

We bought one large bouquet from the family—me, Mom, Danny, Keith, and Danny’s wife and kids. We decided to let everyone else figure out what “family” meant.

I took every picture album and all of Dad’s papers and things down with me. Keith and I bought a cardboard display board and I made a small display about Dad. We blew up some photos and framed them, and I had some of his Army commendations copied onto a nice ivory paper. We laid out some of his medals and patches and a small American flag. Danny’s daughter drew a picture and sent some paper flowers she had made at school. We added them to the display as well.

The funeral was small and there were not many visitors. So many of the people that knew my family had moved away years before, and Dad’s friends came for the funeral service, but not the visitation. It was small and intimate without a lot of fuss, which is the way Dad would have liked it.

Bottom line is, Dad was a plain and simple man. He did what he had to do without a lot of fuss. He owned very little. If he were attending a large, flashy funeral, he would be standing off to the side, waiting for the chance to go take his tie off. I think we ended up giving him a funeral that he would have been comfortable with.

Danny did such a great job with the service. Keith downloaded some quiet music that was played at the beginning and end. Danny spoke for a few minutes, focusing on who Dad was and how he would be remembered. One of his best friends also added a few remarks at the end. It was a simple service, but very touching.

At the grave site, I was almost overcome watching the soldiers who came to fold the flag. There is a real ritual to that and I found that focusing on that aspect comforted me. My dad loved being a soldier and it was so right for them to be there. Despite my problems with that this country has become, I gladly accepted the flag along with “the thanks of a grateful nation.”

When my dad was in the Army, he was part of a detail that went around the country during the Viet Nam War and did the flag duties at funerals. My mom said she could just hear him telling those guys to get it right!

When the time came for me to speak, I did my best to shove everything else aside and speak from the heart. Somehow I managed to lead a prayer that felt right to me, and appropriate for everyone else. After it was all over, my mother said that she could not have imagined anyone else doing the service the way it needed to be done. It helped me to bring the long, wild journey of the prior two months to a close.

All through everything--court appearances for guardianship, standing up to doctors, holding Dad’s hand and talking to him, trying to help him understand where he was, looking at nursing homes—I kept struggling to do the right thing for Dad. I just wanted him cared for, treated well, and given as much respect as possible. That carried over into the funeral too. But with the funeral I was also able to help myself see that there’s not anything else I can do for him now. I got some good closure that day, and have been slowly working on getting back to normal.

We had to have a major amount of work done on the car before we went down. It needed a new radiator. While we were there, the fuel pump went out. We’d been warned about it over a year ago, and had been putting off getting it fixed. So, the car died the night before the funeral, while we were driving out into the country taking my mother home. We called AAA to get the car, and my brother to come finish taking my mother home. It was an odd feeling to see the car loaded up and speeding off into the night on a journey back to Louisville. My brother took us home after the funeral.

The car’s back now and all fixed. We had to borrow money from Keith’s mom to make both sets of repairs, so another trip to SF is out for this year. There’s no way we can get this paid back and make trip preparations. We’re both a little bummed about it.


Roger Owen Green said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Roger Owen Green said...

Write as much (or as little) as you want on this or any other topic. Everything I wrote was true, but I could have written a whole bunch more - I didn't feel it. But maybe some day...
I WILL say that you (and I) just got linked to (8/11), so you must be doing SOMETHING write, er, right (and he's taken pity on me.)

EM said...

It's kind ofthe same way for me. There's a lot more to say, but I'm not ready yet. I do feel like I'm finally ready to put the stuff up that I've already written, which is actually helping me a little.

Progressive Ruin, huh? We've arrived, man! Seriously, that's like one of my "idol" blogs. Thanks for letting me know. I haven't had a lot of time this week to hop around the blogosphere.