It is a weird bittersweet sort of day. Ten years ago my father passed away. Eight years ago today my cousin Suzy passed away. And seventeen years ago today I introduced one of my best and closest friends to her now husband at another friend’s wedding rehearsal dinner. So it’s a bittersweet, memory filled kind of day.
I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since my father left this planet, but it has. I don’t talk about daddy dying much. Yes, it happened to me too, the loss of him. I just don’t ever want it to be about me, because it was about him.
And it might sound odd saying that, but since he died I have always felt a bit of a disconnect with my family about this. I remember first feeling it when I had to go help pick out his coffin.
Truthfully, I did not want to do that, was told I was expected to be there. I remember walking a few steps behind my sister and my mother wondering why I was there. I had no part in the decision and did want to be there. The truth is Catholic or not, I hate open caskets. The person you love is gone, and what is left is a body that is just a vessel at that point.
The last time I spent with my father was with both my parents on their wedding anniversary on November 11 of the year he died. I could tell on that night he was ready to go, but he was determined to wait for my sister to come down with her family from New York so he could say goodbye to her and I also knew he did not want to die on his wedding anniversary.
I remember now oddly enough an expression on his face that reminded me of his mother, my late grandmother when she was dying. I can only describe it as an acceptance and a knowingness. I remember we watched the original Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. That was one of my parents favorite movies. I knew that night when I was saying goodbye that I really was saying goodbye. I told him I loved him and kissed him goodbye.
My sister and mother were with him when he actually died. It was my sister’s turn to have time with him before he passed and I did not want to intrude on that. I remember getting the call from my mother early that evening that he was gone. I went into the city and it is still to this day a very out of body memory. I remember getting to my parents’ apartment and being told to go and say goodbye to him before the funeral home came to take his body. He had only died about an hour before so it looked like he was sleeping.
My sister and my mother were somewhat hysterical which is understandable, but it was like I was just sort of on the outside looking in. I didn’t want to fall apart because I figured somebody had to NOT fall apart. It was like walking around awake in a bad dream. After the funeral home came for him I changed the sheets on the bed for my mother and did a couple of loads of laundry.
After the oddness of picking out a casket that I wanted no part of, and the plans, the discussions of who would eulogize my father began. At first my mother did not want my sister and I to do eulogies. But as strange as that sounds I had written my eulogy months before, shortly after my father told us he was terminal. I actually discussed it with him because I wanted to write about my father from a more happy place while he was still alive and not from a point of immediate sorrow just after his death. It also for some reason felt important to me that he should know what I was going to say. Some might say I was seeking approval, I don’t know. I just wanted him to know what my thoughts were.
The following days sort of passed in a bit of a blur. I remember the funeral mass at Old Saint Josephs on Willings Alley in Society Hill being packed on all levels for his mass. It was a bit overwhelming for me and when I got up to do my eulogy and I actually paused a moment. But I then found the faces of close friends in the church so I was able to focus and do a good job and remember my father on that day from a point of happiness and gladness in my heart.
But today 10 years later, I realize that I have mourned him in a bit of a restrained way all these years. At the time he died I didn’t want to lose control of my emotions because the emotions I saw a raging and both my sister and my mother terrified me. The reaction to death emotions are also exhausting if you let them get the better of you.
And then slowly as I came to terms with his being gone I began to feel this sort of detachment. I loved him very, very much, but I never wanted to mourn him in a technicolor grief stricken way. I wanted to be able to let him go but keep the happy memories. The funny memories that made me laugh and brought us all joy.
I think of my father at random times during my everyday life. He like to garden so in the garden I will think of him. He was a great cook so sometimes when I’m making something I will smile and wonder if my father would like that. I always think of him at Christmas because he was a perfectionist about putting up the tree and loved Christmas. I also think of him when the cardinals flock to our woods, he loved cardinals.
I will close today, ten years later with the poem I read at the end of my eulogy :