the closest I can get

So we buried my Dad yesterday.

He died in late January, but the ground had to thaw, and so we buried him yesterday.

We buried him next to my mom, despite the fact that, while they had been married for more than 35 years, they had separated and then divorced in the ’90s, and my Dad’s partner of the last 12-15 years was there. That was a little weird. She didn’t seem to mind, but she always kind of deferred to the “family,” even when I thought she shouldn’t.

At the cemetery, I introduced myself to the “new” wife of one of my uncles I found myself standing next to — I had seen her once or twice before, but had never met her in person. She tried to offer comfort by telling me about how her parents had both, in a bizarre coincidence, died on the same day when they were each in their 60s. She then told me that I could be comforted by the fact that my dad had died in his sleep. Which would be fine, except her way of putting it was “At least he wasn’t murdered or something, because then you’d be angry, too.”

My brushing up against Enlightenment in this situation is that I didn’t punch her in the face.

(Don’t yell at me. I know she meant well. I know people say stupid things when they don’t know what to say. But “at least he wasn’t murdered?” Really? That’s the best she could do? Why can’t people just say “I’m so sorry”?)

Instead (of punching her in the face) I walked over and helped my Dad’s partner dip Dad’s dog’s paw in the dirt and put his pawprint on the lid of the coffin.

I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about my family, and all the joys and hurts of growing up, and remembering all of the goofy memories of our childhood while looking at these people who are all now deep into middle age. My two younger brothers lying together in my youngest brother’s crib; my oldest brother running out of the house all concerned about the paint on his car when I fell off my bike in its vicinity as I was learning to ride a two-wheeler; one of my sisters helping me out of the ditch after my pants leg got caught in my bike chain and walking my bike home for me; my next older sister and I getting into trouble in bed after bedtime for either fighting or giggling.

Now we have children who have children, or are old enough to. We’re all gaining weight around our middles and discussing our strategies for dealing (or not) with our grey hair.

It’s difficult to lose a parent, it’s really difficult to lose both. Many talk about this awareness of being the “oldest” generation, but I don’t really feel that, I guess because I have so many older siblings. (My own personal buffer zone.)

I would like to be able to let go of past pain. I would like to cure myself from The-Grass-is-Always-Greener syndrome. I would like to always FEEL the joy I know is there.


One song, from the car yesterday, which I should not have listened to (I started crying while singing along with the refrain, and didn’t really stop for about 20 minutes):

Won’t it be dull, when we rid ourselves of all the demons haunting us, that keep us company;
won’t it be dumb, to be happy like we always thought we’re supposed to feel, but never seem to be.

(War on Drugs, Barenaked Ladies)

And then today, playing through a tiny little speaker in the kitchen while I made dinner:

. . .there’ll be icicles, and birthday clothes, and sometimes
there’ll be sorrow . . .

(Little Green, Joni Mitchell)

7 thoughts on “the closest I can get

  1. My sister separated from her husband late last year, and now lives in Spain. I live in BC. My parents are not getting any younger in Yorkshire. I briefly pondered only yesterday how I would cope (Yypical! Thinking about ME!) when the first one succumbs to the inevitability of age. No time soon I trust, but it will come. I wonder which of them will be left alone to cope, and whether they will do it successfully.

    I see you listen to plenty of Canadian music. 🙂

  2. Funerals are really difficult occasions, aren’t they? I mean, even if it was the “ideal” funeral it would still be hard because part of the point of it is to say goodbye to someone you’ve loved and part is to be thankful for the relationship you’ve had. That mixed emotional context surely makes for inevitable emotional confusion.

    In your case, adding a substantial time delay since your father’s death must again be a complicating factor.

    And then there’s the problem that almost all funerals aren’t ideal. People who are attending are there for a whole variety of reasons. Some have been very close to the person, but others are there without ever having met the person who has died, but because they have a relationship of some sort (not necessarily a very good one) with another mourner. Almost everyone has had no input into how the occasion will be run.

    When you put all these things together it’s a miracle that anyone comes away from the funeral with any real sense that it was a worthwhile experience. Maybe people who have prepared themselves well (as I suspect you did) do feel a benefit. And as time goes on the impact can be quite different to what was felt on the actual occasion, too. Clearly that’s the case with your experience – that it has provoked a period of increased reflection which necessarily intensifies both the sadness and the celebration.

    I reckon you’re wrong about one thing in your posting, though. You said you should not have listened to the Barenaked Ladies song. I haven’t met that song before, but Joni Mitchell’s Blue album would certainly be on my post-funeral play list. As a means to help you focus on the personal meaning and emotions of the event it has to be a good thing, even if it makes you non-functional for 20 minutes…or more.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, oldblack.

      You’re right — the funeral is often not what a person needs. The burial was just my immediate family, but the readings and hymns were cookie-cutter, and really had nothing at all to do with my dad.

      I don’t really know that it would make any difference, but it would be nice if these services were more about the person and less about how amazing God is. While everyone was singing “How Great Thou Art” I was singing along in my head, to dad.

      I’m still not feeling functional. I’m just sad, and tired, and tired of being sad and tired. I feel like someone snuck behind me and shoved me into a mid-life crisis with both hands. I’ve done so many things wrong, and I don’t get to go back and do them again, and I fear it’s almost too late for me to do any different.

      • My sister’s funeral was a non-religious one, and although there are some negative aspects of that, the big positive was that there was a real focus on her. I agree that this is what can be missing from the traditional religious ceremony which attempts to say things of a general nature about the meaning of people’s lives, and tries to be consoling in a pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die sort of way.

        In relation to how to deal with the feeling or knowledge that you’ve done things wrong, I have absolutely no solutions. I too am troubled by my past and recurring sins. I deal with this by trying to block out the past – avoiding the people, walling myself off from the world, keep the earphones on and have the music up loud. But I can tell you it doesn’t work too well.

        • “Pie in the sky when you die.” 😀

          I’m terrible at walling myself off, probably worse at blocking out the past. I would like to only look forward, and I try, but we’re all too in/formed by what has come before to shed it entirely.

          I think I just need to let myself be sad. Hope everyone can put up with it for as long as it lasts.

  3. My dear friend, you should take the time you need to grieve. It feels like it will last forever, but eventually you start to wake up again. Be sad or silly. Sing or weep. There’s no avoiding it–you just have to go through. But there are people who love you and will support you and even take you out for drinks. ((hugs))

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