Something Important Happened 6
[Continued from here. All articles in this series will be archived here]
After we saw you we went down to the hospital cafeteria and ate. It was strange – you feel like food is unimportant compared to everything that’s going on. But that’s not how your stomach sees it.
There’s this strange feeling of relief after the trauma of death. If the person you love had been suffering, there is this realization that you no longer have to worry about their suffering. But there also is this stampede of busywork that sweeps you up at the worst possible time vis-a-vis your ability to actually do anything: find a funeral home. Talk to the coroner. Sign paperwork. Wills, notices, invitations, phone calls, emails, everything.
My sisters were a godsend. Having them there to bring their massively superior organizational facilities to bear on directing the stampede was an enormous help. It didn’t hurt that in times of crisis, my mother is essentially a warhorse. So all the post-death arrangements were handled by a not-unanimous but certainly professional panel.
We disagreed mildly about how the funeral should be arranged. My sisters are both Unitarians. My mom is a Catholic-raised agnostic, and I’m pretty much a Buddhist at this point. But you were an atheist. I remember you telling me there was no such thing as god when I was a kid (“but lots of people think there is, and that’s okay”). So I tried to advocate for the atheist. We decided a Unitarian church was an ok location for the event. There aren’t a lot of non-church locations that are workable for a funeral, and the Unitarians are an open-minded lot that don’t insist on any particular dogma being included in the service.
The panel invited people, decided on speakers and performers. I made an invite and then a program. I looked through old pictures of you. I began to feel proud. Still sad, but as I had discovered there are many different kinds of sad.
You wanted to be cremated, so we had to go up to the funeral home to inspect the body before this was to happen. No one was invited but the funeral home fixes you up in your dressy clothes anyway. We went and saw you and they had combed your hair oddly – puffed out to the side. It made us laugh; you would have laughed too. Although I remember wishing I could have somehow just atomized your body as soon as you had left it. Better that than have strangers handling it and screwing up your hair.
We fought about the remembrance ceremony, as we were now calling it. We met with the officiant, a nice Unitarian minister (priest?) whose suggestions I nonetheless had to keep vetoing, because I felt I knew what you would want. There would be no prayers or invocations. There would be remembrances, and songs.
People started to arrive. My sisters’ families, my aunt and uncle. The house started to fill up. A neighbour lent us their house for the duration, and we put people up there. People told stories about you. We rehearsed the songs.
Then the memorial day came, and we put it on. We played songs from your album as people filed in. It was quite a crowd. We had few decorations, some flowers, some pictures of you. You were a handsome man, don’t you know? Friends of yours came, many who I hadn’t seen in years. Friends of mine came from work. Friends I hadn’t heard from in ages had heard about it and asked to come saying, “your dad was a good guy.”
People spoke. We heard your life story – in part, but well told, by the people who were there. And at the end we sang that song.
Afterwards it was a wake at your house. People filed in; it got crowded. Some said it was the best funeral they had ever been at. Some said, “he had quite a life”. I switched into associate host mode and didn’t have much of a chance to think about my own feelings, which was good. We poured Guinness, and food was served; people were hanging out in the garden. Stories were told. Your old friends told me how much I reminded them of you.
And in that way, on that day, the old, withered, wraith-Tom began to recede and a new, remembered and imperfect – but much more representative – Tom took form.
It’s been over five years now since that day. In the months following, things were hard to take. Many things that were important in my life – work, my interests, whether I got out of bed – seemed insignificant compared to what had happened to you. As time went on, I was able to put things back together again, and figure out what belonged, and what I should jettison, what I should work towards, and what I should just drop.
As with the memorial, I tried to think what you would do, and I still do that every day.
I wear your watch on my wrist; I think of you every time I look at it. Your picture sits next to our dining room table, which you made. My daughter knows your name and your face. She asks about you. I wish you two could have met, but that’s not how it happened. So I tell her stories; good stories. There are so many. So much wisdom. Thank you for all of it.