My dad passed away on Father's Day. That should freak me out, but oddly enough it doesn't. Next year might be another matter but I'll deal with that then. There have been some very bad spots and I'm sure they will continue to crop up, catching me unawares. I want to say that we lost him too soon, but even if it had come 20 years from now instead, it would still have been too soon. Sometimes the sense of loss is just overwhelming. But I know that all of this is to be expected: it's part of the process I have to go through as I learn to let go. Underneath of all that, though, is an odd sense of peace. He wasn't in pain or distress and didn't leave behind loose ends, things undone, or words unsaid. I know with absolute certainty that he loved his family beyond measure. That he thoroughly enjoyed being a father and husband. He has left us, but without doubt or recriminations and with many wonderful memories. There are much worse ways to go.
My sister flew up from GA right away. Miraculously we actually got along for an entire week. In fact, as a family we were in unusual harmony when it came to the decisions that had to be made. I think Dad would have approved of the way we handled things, always keeping him in mind, how he felt about things and what would capture his spirit best.
Many years ago, Dad had this brown shirt that he wore all the time, every single weekend. It wasn't a very attractive shirt to begin with and didn't improve with age. We kept buying him new shirts, hoping he would take the hint but still that damned shirt would come out. It made my sister especially nuts and she used to give him a hard time about it. He just laughed and told her that he was going to leave it for her in his will. That was years ago and eventually we stopped seeing the shirt. This past week, my sister had asked my mom for something of Dad's that she could have. As Mom rummaged for his watch a memory hit me from out of the blue. "Well," I said, "I'm sure if we look through his drawers we'll be able to find that brown shirt. Dad always wanted you to have it." They both knew instantly what I was referring to and we all laughed. It was a shared memory and a good moment. I think that somewhere Dad was having a good laugh too.
My dad's family has an odd propensity for nicknames. My Aunt Pooks passed away some years ago, but my Aunt Sis is still with us. My grandmother was known to all her friends and neighbors as Birdie her whole life. My cousin Butch got his real name from his father, but I have no idea what Rocket's real name is. I do know how he got the nickname, though. My dad was driving Aunt Sis to the hospital as she was going into labor and they barely made it there in time. Dad said that the baby came out like a rocket, and the name stuck. Last week I had a phone call. "Hi, its Darlene." Darlene? I don't know anyone named Darlene. But there was something in the voice that struck a chord. Then she said, "Podie" and I knew immediately. Later when I saw her in person I told her not to use her real name if she called again because it just confused me. Hmmm, shades of the Bar&Grill in that.
We had a graveside service and it was just about perfect. The weather cooperated, the view was fabulous - mountains as far as the eye could see - and everyone turned out. Even an aunt and uncle of my Dad's. I'm not sure how old the aunt is but I know the uncle is about the same age as my dad. As I explained to my nephew later, my grandmother was the oldest of 21 kids! I have a newspaper clipping somewhere that dates back to WWII and gives details about the family, discussing the different ways they all contributed to the war effort. I have to dig that out and send it to him. By the time Gram's baby brother came along she was already working on a family of her own.
We all gathered again later at another aunt's house. Food and drink were plentiful and we shared some memories and some laughs. My youngest nephew and a cousin's boy went fishing and got good and wet as is only fitting for growing boys. Later on an uncle by marriage took the two of them for a long drive over and around the mountain where they got to see a few elk and even a black bear. My nephew was thrilled and I'm sure he will carry that memory with him for a long time.
My mother doesn't drink much, but she does enjoy her cider ... hard cider that is. Well there was beer aplenty at the house, but no cider. My BIL, bless his heart, is a born and bred flatlander, as they say up in those parts. An urban yuppie if there ever was one. But he bravely set out towards the local redneck bar in search of cider for Mom. I can just imagine the look he must have got from the locals when he asked for it. No, they didn't have any; but they did have Mike's Hard Lemonade which he brought back for Mom.
As the afternoon wore on, two decks of cards were brought out and we gathered around two tables - one in the kitchen and one on the covered deck - for a marathon session of 500 bid. My mother hadn't played since I was a kid, but she and my aunt skunked my cousins no less than four consecutive games. We laughed about the pairing off: girls against boys, aunts against nephews, sisters against brothers. Then we started switching off, the winners of each table playing against each other and new teams forming at the other table. My older nephew eventually got pulled into the game and, never having played before, still pulled off two fairly tricky hands. He and another cousin eventually brought Mom and my aunt down to earth before the evening ended.
It was a very difficult week, but the memories aren't all bad. I think Dad would approve.