It Was A Close Run Thing

Not really sure what happened to yesterday.

I swear I could see it knocking on my door but next thing I know, it's today. Damned if I can see where it went. May have something to do with loitering in PJs all day, trying to soothe some ravaged spots in my heart. Trying, desperately, not to have the recurring thoughts of "Wow. Dad's gone." Or imagining that I'd visit my parents' house and his hospital bed is not there; that his nurses, who developed a fierce affection for him, aren't there chatting with him; that he won't hear Numbah One Son's voice and, in a clear baritone, call him over -- Numbah One Son was the last person my father always recognized -- to ask how school was going.

Whatever happened to yesterday evaporated in the raw, stinging, effort to not think along these lines. Whenever the odd forbidden thought entered my mind's perimeter, I would dispel it by counter-thinking how painful his penultimate days were. His last few months were slashed by hallucinations he was falling, and him tearfully calling for his "mommy." His brain function was impaired to such an extent that quite often swallowing was a hazardous event, since choking was not unlikely and neither my mother nor the nurse of that moment were strong enough to lift him to perform the Heimlich maneuver.

His palate -- irony of ironies for a man whose violin d'angre was as a wine taster -- had also degraded to the point that anything short of cloyingly sweet was perceived as venomously bitter.

Over the last few weeks whenever I stopped to visit him, he was always looking down and then immediately looked up, his face inevitably cast with a look of bewildered surprise. "Who is THIS now?" seemed to be the intermittent thought his mind was transmitting to the best of its moribund abilities. I always entertained him with brief conversations of "I saw [former partner of his firm] and he sends greetings." or "I'm sending that paperwork to the Division of Corporations." or "We're having a meeting with the investors to see if we're all on the same page."

That sort of thing.

It's both a bromide and a truth that he's not suffering now. Cold comfort today, but one likely to warm up as the weeks and the shock and the grief sublimate into the mundane, workaday realities to which we must all return.

The Funeral Mass was said by a lifelong -- I used to joke "they were fetuses together" -- Jesuit priest friend of his. He held it together, even though I know it was tough for him. Obviously, not everyone held it together. My niece and TFBIM were a rocket-hot mess each. My BiL, who otherwise is as Spartan as they come, surprisingly was practically Mediterranean in his emotions. Numbah One Son, looked as though someone had taken all of the stuffing out of him, his eyes welling at selected moments, but he wanted to comfort my mother and, at the age of 14, did his manful best to maintain an even strain. He spend the downtime of these last few days pacing with a Rosary in his hand, praying for his grandfather's eternal rest. Numbah Two Son, in his own way, tried to be a comfort, distributing tissues as if he was a commissioned agent in the Tissue Sales Force.

My sister had pretty much run out of tears, and my mother ran out just prior to the Mass, prior to the casket being closed, when she kissed his forehead and asked him to wait for her. She then slumped in her seat, broke down for a good half minute, muttering "I can't do this, I can't do this..." with the whole of her grandchildren embracing her quietly, not knowing what to do or say or even if there was anything to be done or said. Then she stood up, dabbed at her eyes, and said: "OK. I'm done crying."

The Mass was a blur to me. I only remember snippets and snatches and sections. NOS read from the Book of Wisdom (3:1-9) as he had practiced it, not wanting to let his grandfather down. I remember staring at the ceiling, breathing deeply, as certain phrases ("...have fallen asleep in the hope of the Resurrection...", etc.) made my eyes start brimming hotly. I focused on innocuous architectural features. I counted curlicues, yellow flowers. Whatever.

The homily spoke about Catholic faith, and specifically my Dad's. I was stunned to hear from the pulpit how approvingly my dad spoke of me, as this was news to me.

That was close.

Afterwards, as my sister was issuing instructions at length, and explaining the rationale for the instructions given at even greater length, I was conducting a brief census of who was there. In these circumstances, we are always surprised by who shows up and who doesn't. Those who surprised me by their presence I will regard with ineffable gratitude and affection. A lot of these folks had no compelling reason to be there, and they were not even remotely expected to, but came they did anyway. I am grateful for them.

At last we got to the cemetery. Towards the back, underneath a spreading umbrella tree -- which my dad always hated, FWIW -- my dad had selected his plot. Always practical, he got it all the way in the back that, when others were being buried, nobody would step over his gravesite. The hearse stopped, and all of us pallbearers took hold of "our" handles and hoisted, placing the casket on the mechanized bier which would lower it to the earth. We all assembled, as the priest sprinkled Holy Water and committed my father's body back to the dust whence we all came, I thought I was not only going to lose it, but lose it in such an Olympic, epic, Homeric, way that many generations from now, children would recount the incident in song and adults speak of it in hushed, reverential tones for all time.

And then.

My Guardian Angel directed my gaze towards the cemetery director, a man in his late 50s whose hair and eyebrows had been dyed a very ridiculous dark auburn, and badly at that. The tonsorial tragedy which had befallen this unfortunate, looking as though someone had laced his shampoo with burgundy and black shoe polish, was the balm my ragged system needed so very desperately. I stared fixedly at him, as he was ideally situated so that staring at his impressive black-cherry shellac coif gave casual observers the impression that my gaze was resolutely upon the priest as he recited the final prayers. There were a few stifled sniffles of genuine emotion, but I realized I'm going to hold it together. I'm really going to really hold it really together.

Sometimes, the littlest things prove the greatest blessings.


blackbird said…
With sympathy,

Frogdancer said…
Wow. What a day.
Paola said…
Indeed it is ...
My father has carved himself the cross that will have to crown his grave, which he carefully selected and told us all how to put him to rest. I always found that appalling, now with years on my shoulders I don't as much.

"Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis"
reader said…
With deepest sympathy to you and your family.

trash said…
Well spotted on the tonsurial nightmare, always good to have something to prod you to hold it together. It sounds like it was a fine funeral and one can't ask for better.
Stomper Girl said…
Sending you and your family much sympathy. xxx

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