I was going through “On This Day” on Facebook, and came across this private note to some friends seven years ago. I am not sure if I ever shared this story with you (this blog is getting to be the online version of spending time with your old Aunt, I think. I tell a story, you roll your eyes and sigh, “Yes Auntie, we know. You’ve told us.” If this is the case with this story, then just ignore me and go get us some drinks. I’ll have a Presbyterian.). If you haven’t heard the story of my Dad’s wake and funeral before, I hope you will stay for a few minutes and indulge me in my memories.
Tom was really down. He was not dealing well with his father’s passing. He felt his friends were giving him too much room, and he wished someone would talk to him, help him get out of his funk. I sent him this e-mail. I thought it was going to help, I hoped it was going to help him to smile a little. He wrote back. It did. Here is what I wrote:
“How can your dad’s wake and funeral make you smile, you say? Well, it makes me smile and sometimes laugh, every time I think about them.
My dad was the epitome of the cranky old man, and he didn’t like noisy children (except my son Zach, who could do no wrong in my dad’s eyes). Daddy passed away on March 7, 1994 in St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, NJ. I was holding his hand as he went, so I knew he was gone, but I still couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around my dad not being there. I was 34 years old when he died. That was a long time to have his constant presence…how could he be gone now? So, even at his wake, I just couldn’t grasp the reality. Until I realized, with all these people and children in the room, there was no way my dad would be sleeping soundly. When he didn’t get up and say, “You damn kids keep it down!” I finally accepted his passing.
Then we were at his funeral. My oldest brother wrote and read the Eulogy. My parents were very giving people, but they had 10 children to support. They had to be clever in order to share the wealth. So they did things to cut corners. And my brother incorporated this into his Eulogy. He talked about how Daddy could take rotten peaches and make the best ice cream and milkshakes, and rotten tomatoes and make the best stew. But, when he said, “Moldy ham…” in a church full of people, many of whom I didn’t know, well that just broke me up…into giggles! I was struck by the perversity of it! I was trying as hard as I could to suppress them. I didn’t want to appear the insolent child. At the exact same moment, the priest came by sprinkling incense on those congregated, and directly on my oldest sister, who was seated next to me. Unfortunately, she is allergic to the incense, and she started trying to muffle sneezes, so as not to make too much noise.
There we were, seated together, and both making sniffing, choking noises. I was so embarrassed, until people started patting me on the back, and saying, “It will be alright”, and I realized they thought we were crying! This made me laugh more, again at the perversity of it all, and it just sounded like I was crying louder. Of course, the thought of my Dad watching me threw a little fear into me. Daddy would have said, “Dammit, stop that laughing!”, and somehow, that made me laugh, too.
Of course, I miss my Dad more as time goes by, but I also think those incidents were really a gift, a way of laughing with my Dad.
I love you, Tom. I hope you have your precious memories to make you smile through this.