One month ago today my father passed away. I’m still sifting through all that this means, and will need to do that for quite some time. Events we held to honor his passing and celebrate his life popped open a trunk full of memories-specifically the trunk on the old brown bomber station wagon we used to own. Although I suppose technically there wasn’t really a trunk to that car but some “way back” seating, where I, being one of the youngers, usually sat. But I digress. Which I also did repeatedly during my father’s wake and funeral. There were so many lovely memories lined up to pay their respects to our family in the guise of folks we hadn’t seen in years, or decades. It was funny and sad and poignant and I hated it and I wanted it to go on a bit longer all at the same time.
My parents’ generation of Boston-Irish-Catholics still have traditional wakes. Calling hours are listed in the newspaper and the deceased is plumped up and left on display in the funeral parlor. A friend who came to pay respects (what a civilized phrase) remarked that he felt he was like an anthropologist witnessing a cultural event because this was so far removed from his religious and cultural experience. In the casket, my father bore a striking resemblance to Robert Duvall (but with more hair- my father would want me to say that) so I could detach a bit, but it was quite surreal to spend hours in a room with his corpse.
When visitors started arriving, stories started flowing and it was beautiful to see how many people cared for our father, and for our family in general. My mother hadn’t expected many people, certainly not many of their contemporaries who are elderly and run the gamut between vigor and frailty, but she-of-the-lowered-expectations was mistaken, and I think it brought her great comfort to see so many friends. People came from everywhere – cribbage players from their housing complex came, church friends came, drinking buddies came, my mother’s former coworkers came, her friends from nursing school whom she has known for 65 years or so came, friends of their seven daughters and thirteen grandchildren came. They came and shared stories. Stories of camping trips, projects, outings, gardening seasons, parties, performances, stories spanning long-standing relationships and newer alliances. We spent hours trading warm, funny stories about our father. And it took the sting out of saying goodbye