Three years ago I gave a Eulogy. It started with the sentence, “My dad was.” That’s a freaking tough way to start off a sentence.
Three years ago, I was walking to work and got a phone call from my sister.
She told me I might want to sit down (my sister is notorious for using trite cliches, just like I have a knack for over-redundancy). I told her I was walking to work and to get on with it. I sounded cool, calm, if not a bit irritated, but immediately started taking erratic steps on the sidewalk, ensuring I did not step on a crack. Nervous habits manifest themselves in funny ways.
Sister cried, “Dad’s dead.”
My reaction was without hesitation: I snapped into “Go-Mode.” It took me months to snap out of it.
I took a quick inventory:
Where is everyone?
Mom – at the house with the EMS people.
St. Molly – in Atlanta for some future democratic leaders of the free world shit. Does she know? She needs a plane ticket home. I can buy it today. As soon as I get to work.
Baby brother – in the house with Sister’s husband. Go to him as soon as you hang up the phone. Do not leave the Baby alone. He was 14. He will always be the Baby.
What are we going to do?
Let Mom start calling people, Sister has to stop. Sister needs to stay close to the Baby. Sister can’t deliver the news. Tell Mom to call Grandma. Does Grandma know? Mom needs to call Grandma and one of the Uncles – tell John first. Tell mom to call Grandma and John, and St. Molly. Please, Sister, let Mom tell St. Molly.
I’m buying a ticket as soon as I get to work. I’m flying home today. I’ll come home and take care of it. Just let me take care of it.
I’ll call when I book my flight. Sister, stop crying. Go to Baby Brother and check on him – just take care of the Baby. I’ll take care of everything – everyone – when I get home. I’m going to need a ride back from the airport. So will St. Molly. I will call after I buy my ticket. I love you.
I called my best friend. She was shocked. She asked me if I was sure.
I screamed and cursed and told her I hadn’t checked his pulse for sure, but it sounded like he was pretty fucking dead. She said she was sorry. She cried. I didn’t.
I got to work. The first person I saw was Benjie.
Benjie, my friend, my dad died. I’m going home today.
Benjie hugged me. He apologized for not knowing what to say. It’s ok, there is nothing good to say. Benjie collected money from some people, $28 to travel with – to buy a sandwich. I thanked him. I wasn’t hungry.
I bought a ticket and walked home. I had a few hours before I had to leave for my flight. I’d clean. I’d pack and clean and not think. I did not think. I did not cry. I packed. I cleaned. I looked at the wall. I looked out the window. My friend in the white pick up truck came to take me to the airport. She brought 12″ of sandwich with her. She said even though I told her I wasn’t hungry, she couldn’t eat the whole sandwich and wanted me to keep half of it for the ride. Somehow the sandwich disappeared.
I don’t remember much about the airport other than feeling all alone. More alone than I’d ever felt before. I just counted off who was where, what needed to be done, when it needed to be done. I never thought about “why.” Can you Google search “how to plan your father’s funeral” – I didn’t know where to start.
I arrived at one of the airports in Colorado, I don’t know which one. Someone picked me up. Probably Mom. St. Molly was on her way too. We all went to Mom’s house. I don’t remember much, but I did come up with a plan.
Three years ago today, I came up with a plan. Step-by-step, clear, orderly, sequential, complete.
I snapped into “Go-Mode.” I turned off my feelings. I planned the funeral. I drew from my reservoir of strength. I sucked it dry. I used every last drop of strength in my body.
And then I fell apart. A few months later, I fell into thousands of tiny pieces. Someone was there to pick them all up and hold onto them until we could figure out how they fit back together. When that someone left, I hated that he had helped me put the pieces of myself back together again. I wished I had done it alone. I wished I was able to look in the mirror and know I had made it on my own.
I hate it when people tell me that others come into our lives for a reason and maybe he was just here to help me through my Father’s death. It makes me feel like I wouldn’t have been able to make it alone. I’m terrified that I wouldn’t have made it alone.
I would have though. Someone just made it easier. Someone took the pain away – kept the loneliness at bay, at least for awhile.
Ironically (purposfully) the lessons I learned from my Father are the ones that ease the pain of Someone walking out, leaving behind only a few empty promises. The lessons I learned from my Father validate a deeper sense of me than Someone, anyone, can touch.
In my Father’s words (speaking at his father’s funeral in 1996)
He taught me the value of an education, and he fueled my thirst for knowledge. He taught me about the importance of family, the importance of faith, and the importance of living your life according to your values. He passionately taught us that it was ok to have opinions on things, and he taught us how to articulate these opinions. He insisted that we be the author of our own thoughts and he said it was ok to express these thoughts. Sometimes this gift that he gave us gets us into trouble, but it is a gift nonetheless, and one that I am extremely grateful for receiving.
And in my words:
My Father never gave up on me, or let me give up on myself. He ran by my side fighting the very principles of physics as I learned how to ride a bike without training wheels. Talk about tenacity, it only took us 7 years before I had those training wheels off!
He taught me how to say the letter “R” against all odds, against the very nature of my speech impediment.
He taught me how to fight academically, to articulate myself professionally, and to always use spell check. We had to surrender the battle against 5th grade spelling tests when I was eleven and decided that learning how to spell was really not that high on my list of life goals.
He taught me how to push myself physically, and ran me ragged at 5am every morning my senior year of high school when I came up with a hair brained scheme of applying to a military academy. And he cheered me on at every swim meet; from my first 41 second 50 meter race to my all time record, of, well, a time not too much better than that one.
He taught me to talk through my problems and come to my own solution. To find friends that listen rather than tell. To not listen to other people when you know what to do in your gut. My dad taught me the power of words.
My Dad taught me it’s ok to fail, to fall down – there’s no shame in falling – it shows you’re trying. You just have to get back up. Damn you if you don’t pull yourself back up and try again.
My Dad taught me to never take myself to seriously, but to always treat others with serious respect.
My Dad tried to teach me to always be on time, to never make others wait for me. Sorry Dad, you can’t win them all.