It’s been three weeks since “the real Jackie O” died. I knew I would get here eventually. Heck, based on some of the comments I’ve had from a few of you, you knew I’d get her eventually. I just didn’t think it would take this long.
And, now that I’m here, I’m not sure I know exactly what to say. So for those of you looking forward to reading this, I hope I’m not going to disappoint you. But then again, this isn’t about you. Or about me. In this case, it’s about her. And that’s what matters most.
So that’s what I’ll talk about — at least for now. There will be plenty of time in the future for me to talk about other things. Stuff like, you know, how I’m now a member of the “no living parent” club. Trust me, it’s not a club you want to join. I’m not sure there’s one person who is happy to be a member of that club.
I suppose you expected me to be here sooner because of all my previous writings about death. Afterall, I’ve gotten to be pretty good at it. Again, not something I’m proud of or something I’m excited to be good at. It just means I’ve had my fair share (well, clearly fair isn’t the right word here) of it to deal with. And this is how I’ve dealt with it. Here. In this space. So why change now?
I guess that’s my point. Maybe I thought things had changed when Mom died. Maybe I didn’t need to be in this space. Well, doesn’t matter. Because here I am. And, well, here you are, too. And, by the way, thanks for that.
Some of you know this, some of you don’t. Bear with me if you’ve heard some of it before.
When my Dad died 16 years ago, I wasn’t there. Renee and I were living in Vermont at the time. It was Super Bowl Sunday when my brother Tom called and said things “didn’t look good” and that we “should come home” as soon as possible. Dad had been sick. Hospice was involved. We knew we were getting close, but this happened fast. I had planned to go home that weekend, but he actually told me not to. So much for listening to your parents. We got things together as quickly as we could and got in the car for the drive home.
We didn’t make it in time. Rather than be home with everyone else, I found out that my Dad died while in a phone booth in Greenfield, MA. We stopped for gas, and I called home to let them know our status. It was too late, my brother Tim said.
Not being there floored me. Catholic guilt to the hilt. It took a long, long time for me to get over that. Therapy played a big part in that, too. It just really affected me — more than I would let on or acknowledge.
The other thing that really bothered me — and had my head spinning for years — was something we learned after Dad died. One of the nurses told us that Dad wanted to write letters to each of us. Again, floored. I wish I hadn’t heard that. Because then I wouldn’t have spent so much time wondering what would have been in that letter. Never have I wanted so desperately to receive a letter. I wish, in hindsight, that I never knew he wanted to do that.
So, what does this have to do with Mom? After all, I did say this was going to be about her.
Well, two things.
First, I wasn’t there when Mom died. And I’m OK with it. Honest. Here’s the thing. My sister and brother weren’t there either. Once we got hospice involved, we started a basically round-the-clock watch in her room. We had great support of family and friends, but of the three of us, we tried to be there as often as possible — ‘just in case.’ In fact, in her last few days, those of us not there got the call to come down twice as ‘things were close.’ But, the real Jackie O had other ideas. Despite there being times when I sat and prayed in her room and told her it was OK to go, that we were going to be OK, nothing. In fact, the last time I told her that was on Monday, June 13, just before I left after covering the overnight shift.
A few hours later, I was at work when my sister called. “It’s over,” she said. And three minutes later I was in the car en route to the nursing home. Even though my sister called me from there, she wasn’t there when Mom passed. And either was my brother. Mom had a plan. And it was clearly for none of us to be present when she passed. She wasn’t alone. She was with her best friend, who said the end was simple and peaceful. But after hearing stories and talking to people about these moments, I am absolutely convinced this was my Mom’s plan. My sister was en route. But she passed right before she got there. She spent her whole life trying never to burden her children with anything. And this was the last example of that. Not burdening us with being there in her final moments. Not having one of us there or two of us there. She did it her way. And would you really expect any different?
The other thing….and this is what completely slayed me. The real Jackie O had everything set and ready for us. We knew what songs she wanted at the funeral. We knew if there was a wake (“you can have one, but nobody will come,” she wrote), what she wanted. We knew so much because she left a book for us. A book filled with logistical things about the arrangements, but also a book filled with memories, important moments and a host of other things she wanted to share with us. It was an absolute treasure and unbelievable gift for her to leave us. The cover had a note on it that said, “To be opened immediately upon my demise……Mumsie.” Can’t make this up.
But here’s where it gets incredible. Remember the letters my father wanted to write? Well, guess what? Yup, Jackie O wrote them. One for Tom. One for Lynn. One for me. What a gift. Part of me wanted to open it right away. But I waited. I waited until we were home later that night. The kids were in bed. Renee was doing some work. I just took the letter into the living room, opened it up, and was immediately overcome with emotion reading her words.
We have never been a verbal family. We just weren’t. So this was perfect. So very perfect. In three pages of her best handwriting, she praised me, scolded me, apologized to me and taught me. It was an unbelievable act of parenting. One last time. In her words. In her voice. I’ve read that letter no less than 25 times now. I hear her voice as I read along. I suppose that will always be the case.
Renee has read it. And that’ll be it. I won’t share it with my siblings. We’ve shared themes and what not, but we won’t share the letters. Far too personal. We don’t know when she wrote them. She referenced Timmy dying, so they had to be done in the last nine years. And her writing is pristine, so I’m thinking they were written at least four to five years ago. There’s no date or any other indicator of timing. Not that that matters. It’s just curiosity.
I’m guessing she wrote them shortly after Timmy’s death. Again, we weren’t a very verbal family. I’m guessing there were things she wanted to say to each of us and wanted to make sure we knew certain things, and, well, rather than tell us directly (so not her style), she left us the letters to leave no mistake. There’s a part of me that is hugely frustrated that there are some things in the letter that were never said to me in person. However, there’s a hugely satisfied part of me that knows I have this letter for good. And I can open it anytime I want and not just read her words — but hear her words. It is quite simply my most treasured possession. You know, I’m not sure I knew what that was before Mom died. Probably some piece of sports memorabilia. But now, it’s the letter and nothing else comes close.
Mom was a teacher by trade. And she lived that all the way til the end — leaving us — or at least me — with one last lesson. I hope I can complete it. It’s not an easy one for me. And, it’s even a struggle I have in my own way of parenting. Is it earth shattering? No, it’s not. But if I follow through, it’ll make me a better person, and be it as a teacher or as a parent, isn’t that really what Mom always tried to do — make me/us better?
While you think about that, I’m out of here. I’ve got a letter to read. Again.
It’s been a while, eh? Yup. Sure has.
This story is worthy (at least I think it is) of a return to the blog. So, well, here goes.
Here we are in early February, and, well, surprisingly I didn’t write anything January 30 — the 12th anniversary of my Dad’s passing. It’s been sort of a tradition here at I Got Nothin’ that I’d write my annual letter to him — usually complaining about how much I missed him and how his death has affected me and all that. And, for the record, I do miss him. And, well, yeah, it affected me. Maybe just a bit.
But, none of that this year.
No visiting the cemetery on his ‘anniversary’ either. First time in a while that I haven’t done that. I’ve been recently, though, so it’s not like I’ve abandoned that practice.
I made the choice to not write the letter. I made the choice to not go to the cemetery. One little Facebook status was all I did that day. And that’s a good thing. I promised myself that I wouldn’t force the anniversary of his death on you — and, more importantly, on me.
I remember him a lot. Did I need to have the specific day to ‘publicize’ him to my friends (or, even, myself)? Because, if I ever have to do that again, strangle me. I’m not saying I’ll never post another letter that I write to him. What I’m saying is that I was in a decided pattern of behavior around his death (as well as Tim’s). That’s a pattern that I wasn’t growing very fond of. It was the all-consuming pattern. Not so much a fan of those.
Besides, my going in the opposite direction, by not forcing the memory, by just letting things be as they are, well, I discovered that good things do happen.
Just like they did today. Honestly, this is one of the most touching moments that I’ve had about my Dad since his passing. It might not seem that way to you. Or, maybe it does. I don’t know. And, it’s one of those ‘it doesn’t really matter’ moments. It affected me. And for that I’m grateful.
Here’s the story…and I’m already apologizing to you for the length of this. It’s not a short story.
So Aidan is a second grader at Sacred Heart, the Catholic elementary school within our parish. Erin goes there, too. It’s a great place for them. And, after spending my entire elementary schooling in a Catholic school, I’m pretty happy they are in one now.
We are just wrapping up an annual celebration of Catholic Schools Week. It’s primary goal is awareness. But it also does some fun stuff for kids and families to get involved. One of those things is what made today special.
The local Catholic high school, St. Bernard’s, hosts an annual art show during Catholic Schools Week. Each year, they solicit art projects from area Catholic elementary schools and they are then displayed in a true exhibit space within the school. It was very cool to see. And part of the reason for that is because Aidan had one of his projects selected for display.
Because the show is in the school, I had called ahead to check on whether or not it was possible to come by late in the afternoon. The art teacher called me back and said he would be there late, so no problem at all coming toward the end of the day.
A student led us down to the gallery room and, after a bit of searching, we found Aidan’s picture — a really cool snowman image. I’m not sure where he gets the talent from, but it certainly looked good to me. While we were in the room, the teacher walked in and welcomed us and asked if I was the one who had called earlier in the day. Nothing fancy in the conversation. At least not yet.
He was just telling us about the show, how he enjoys getting the elementary schools involved with the high school. That sort of thing. Then he told Aidan that he went to Aidan’s school as a kid, so that was neat. And that he still lives right across from Aidan’s school. So very slowly a connection was being made here — at least unbeknownst to me.
At one point in the conversation, the art teacher, who is clearly still passionate about what he does, stated that this was, in fact, his 40th year at the school Forty! And that’s where it clicked.
Not because this man has been doing this for 40 years (but, um, wow!), but because I wondered if he might possibly have known my Dad.
How would he have known him? Well, some of you probably don’t know that my Dad was, first and foremost, an educator. He taught elementary school and then moved into administration and, for a time, he served as assistant superintendent of schools in the Norwich diocese where St. Bernard’s is located. In fact, he was very involved with St. Bernard’s early on and had worked closely on a variety of projects there.
I wasn’t sure if I should bring that up, though. I mean, this guy has been teaching 40 years. Imagine the people he’s met over the years. And, well, Dad left that job in the mid 1980s. I didn’t want to ask and be told no. Nor did I want to ask and get a tepid response and think he was just being polite. So, I didn’t say anything.
As it was time to leave, the teacher said he’d walk us back to the front lobby of the school. I didn’t think anything of it, because it was quite a walk with some twists and turns. Besides, we were still chatting about a variety of things.
As we went down one hallway, there was a huge portrait of a former bishop in the diocese — a bishop that I had known because of my Dad. Ah, I said, I know him. I met him a long time ago when my father worked for the diocese.
And that’s when I could tell the teacher did know my Dad. “I thought so,” the teacher said. “And that’s why I wanted to walk you out. I recognized your name when we spoke on the phone and I wondered if maybe you were the same family.”
“That’s us,” I said.
The teacher told me that he remembered my Dad. And then he did the coolest thing. On our walk, he took us to the chapel within the school.
He went on to explain how two statues in the chapel were only there because of my Dad. That these statues had been in another school and somehow ended up at the administration office where he worked. And at one point, in discussing needs for the chapel, my Dad mentioned these two statues to the teacher and, well, that was that. So now, as you go in the chapel, the statues are still there.
Even though he said he had known my Dad, I wasn’t quite sure what to say or how to react — until I heard this story. He definitely remembered him. He definitely remembered this story. It wasn’t like he was just being polite.
He also knew my Dad had passed and made reference to that a couple of times. I thanked him for sharing the story, that it really meant a lot to me to hear something like that — particularly something so unexpected.
And then he said something that really got me — that really made this an emotional homerun for me.
“Because of those statues,” he said, “your Dad has left a lasting impression that is with us every day.”
He sure has.
For me, this was huge. It helped me understand that, yeah, you don’t have to force memories. They will come. And it’s not just me that has them. Other people remember my Dad, too. I lose sight of that sometimes. Make that a lot of times.
But, seriously. I didn’t sign up for this today.
No, we were just going to an art show.
We were just going to find a picture of a snowman.
Turns out we found a whole lot more.
And I’m really glad we did.
So today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 77.
But I’m not writing about him. Not now. Maybe not later. I mean, well, eventually. But this won’t be a birthday post like I’ve done in the past. Have I thought about him today? Sure I have. A lot, actually.
But I’ve also thought about other things in my past — and that’s what brought my here. Maybe it was on a whim. But so what. I’m here. And, well, apparently, so are you.
(Thanks for that, by the way.)
The inspiration for this post came from a strange thread on Facebook that started with an innocent comment about a friend’s interest in roller derby. She commented about another friend who would make a dynamic player. I made a comment that, even now, the two of them would kick ass.
I know that doesn’t sound like much but it then led to a look back at the roller rinks of southeastern Connecticut and southwestern Rhode Island, under 21 nights at a couple of now defunct establishments and old-school top 40 radio.
What do these things have in common? Simply, they are institutions of my childhood and early teen years. So, by default, they have an automatic place saved in me. A place where I can always go and pull out some fabulous memories — just like I do about my dad. But, as I said, I’m not writing about him.
So, those of you that grew up in and around Pawcatuck, maybe you’ll appreciate some of these things.
Since I started this thought with roller rinks….let’s start there.
Remember Galaxy when it was down at the beach and Roll-On America in Groton? And of course Wes-Skate in Westerly — Friday night sock hops, anyone? Now Galaxy is in Groton, ads are on the radio and I want to take the kids there. I never could shoot the duck, and I’d probably kill myself trying now, but forget the socializing nights as teenagers, remember the birthday parties and school nights roller skating — because there were a lot.
Maple Breeze. Do I have to say much more than that? I drove by today and was saddened. I went to the auction of when they sold the place — just to see whose hands would be on the property, knowing they’d never do it justice. I went to the property auction, and, as a result, have two special things in my garage — the old clown face and the golf ball sign that says, “Don’t Bounce Me.” On a perfect summer night like tonight, it was the place to be. Mini golf, go karts, bumper boats, water slide. And friends. Always with friends. Aidan and I were mini-golfing in North Conway this week and all I could think about was wishing I had the chance to take him to the best course ever.
There was always music playing at Maple Breeze. Always the local radio station. Maybe it was Fun 102 or 102.3 The Wave. Maybe it was RI104 before it became WRX, 103.7. Or, maybe it was the grand-daddy of the day — Q105. I have an affinity for the Q since I interned there and, most recently, was on the morning show a few years ago with Franco and Nancy and then Nancy and Shawn. But, the point is, more than a few of you reading this had red and yellow Q105 bumper stickers on your bedroom door or car.
So as some of you know, I went to St. Michael School. And, not sure about you public schoolers, but whenever there was an SMS school function, we always — and I mean always — ended up at Bee Bee Dairy in Westerly for ice cream. An equally good pizza place now, but each time I go in, I think about a Bee Bee Dairy sundae.
And speaking of St. Michael’s…Saturday morning basketball league at the Pawcatuck Junior High School Gym. St. Mike’s, West Vine, West Broad, Deans Mill Green, Deans Mill Gold. Great coaches and refs and great stuff for us kids. Even cheerleaders for the girls. Every Saturday morning…two games. And the gym was packed. Or at least I remember it that way.
Nothing could be written about sports in Pawcatuck without mentioning Pawcatuck Little League. I’m a little biased. Ok, a lot biased. I practically grew up there. I have immense feelings for the place and the people who made it into arguably one of the top complexes in the country. Gibson. Knowles. Lenihan. Walsh. Crowley. Cray. Seriously, I could go on and on, but I won’t….I’ll miss too many people. It makes me crazy to go to my own Little League now and see what it is compared to what I had growing up. If I ever moved back to Pawcatuck, that would be one of the reasons. Call me crazy, but it’s true. I remember the boys team that won the district and you’d think they had won the World Series….I remember the girls teams that were good enough to win the World Series. I remember all of it. It’s just a part of me. And always will be.
Back to St. Michael’s for a bit…how about the summer festival? Another institution growing up. Are you kidding me? Charlie LoPresto and family making fritters in the corner. Bingo in the other corner. The white elephant booth. Charlie Shea calling, “put a dime down, win a dollar. put a dime down win a dollar.” My first gambling experience at the dice wheel where they’d sweep losing quarters off the board into rain gutters. The putting green contest where a prize was a free pass to Maple Breeze. The moonwalk when it was there. Pony rides on the convent lawn. And fried dough. Oh, the fried dough.
Wilcox Park and summer pops. Seriously, remember when it all started? Remember the glow sticks you’d get? Remember how early you’d have to get in the park?
And speaking of the park, remember McCrory’s nearby? You could go in and get popcorn — and everything else.
What about Besso’s on the bridge? A must stop before every movie to get penny candy when it was still just that — a penny.
And after the movies, you’d go to McDonalds. I mean, what else would you do? Of course, if the show was at the United, you’d be happy if you could sit in the balcony.
And the United was close to China Village — a mainstay for ‘special occasion’ dining.
So many memories. So many things to talk about. I mean, I didn’t even mention Rosalinis. I didn’t mention Thanksgiving Day football. I didn’t mention Del’s Lemonade. I didn’t mention “Smiley” working at the DQ. I didn’t mention the Westerly Community Credit Union holiday hoops tournament. I didn’t mention the wall. I didn’t mention the pavillions.
It doesn’t have to be mentioned to be important. In fact, it doesn’t have to be a significant event in your life either. It just has to be something — that when you look back on it — it makes you smile.
I apologize for typos and the ‘rush’ of my writing here, but the inspiration was there to get down a few thoughts and, well, that’s just what I did.
What I really hope is that some of these memories trigger some positive thoughts for you. I am blessed to have grown up in a very cool part of the world with a lot of very cool people around me. Some of them are still around me. And some of them aren’t. And often times you don’t think enough about the ones that are still around until they are gone. But it’s when they are gone that they can sometimes have the greatest impact on you.
Happy Birthday, Dad.
It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, because I do.
But, usually, when I sit down to write this letter, everything just flows so easily — not because things have been building up, per se. Mostly because, in the past, I’ve been consumed with certain days and events that spark key reminders of your death, which happened 11 years ago today.
This time, it’s different.
And that’s a good thing.
It’s not that I’ve forgotten about today. Oh, no. On the contrary. I can still recall every detail like it was yesterday.
It’s just that I haven’t been as pre-occupied in my thoughts as I have in the past. You know, where I’d start thinking in December how miserable January is going to be. Little (er, no) things like that.
Now, I try to just keep going — remembering milestones, but not dwelling on them and not being consumed by them. And in those milestones become tributes — which is why I share this with others. Yes, this is your day. Our day. But this is also a day that I can remind others about you. Because, well, you had an impact on a number of folks, but they probably aren’t waking up today realizing what happened 11 years ago.
That’s the other part of this, Dad. While I highlight the milestones, I’m doing it because I’ve become even more comfortable with the everday remembrances — like prayers with the kids, thoughts throughout the day, wondering to myself how you would handle a situation.
That comes up a lot more now. And that’s such a good thing.
Oh, I still get sad — and a little of that will even happen today. But, the good news, Dad?
Overall, there is more happiness than sadness. Maybe happiness isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s awareness. No, that’s not it. I’ve always been aware.
What I’m trying to say, Dad, is that I’m trying to live more day-to-day with you. That if in a situation a thought of you comes up, I roll with it. I smile. I laugh. I respond. Somehow — and almost always to myself.
And, well, if a day or two — or a week — goes by and I don’t think of you, it doesn’t mean I care less or that I’ve forgotten.
I promise you that, Dad.
Because I will never forget.
What it means is that you are with me. I know that. And, even though I’ve always known that, it’s like sometimes I’ve felt I’ve had to prove it to others — and even to myself.
There’s nothing to prove, Dad.
In fact, it’s really pretty simple.
You’re my Dad. You always will be.
And while you may not be physically with me anymore, your presence in — and impact on — my life is probably greater now than it ever was.
And, I don’t know about you, Dad, but I like that.
It’s amazing, sometimes, the lessons from your parents that you actually remember over time. And how, regardless of the context the lesson was in 30 years ago, it has relevance today in a different context.
My dad, as many of you know, was into fundraising stuff — particularly for the local little league. Well, I remember one day having to to go with him to the local Bess Eaton Donut Shop to pick up some coffee the store was donating for some little league function.
Dad, why are we doing this, I wondered.
Michael, when you need something, you just ask for it. You’ll be amazed at how often you get what you ask for.
Well, 30 years ago it was just coffee for a little league function. Today, it was something of much greater value. It was, in a nut shell, my well being.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t going over the edge — honest! But, I was having some serious difficulty dealing with some things in my life — primarily loss. No surprise for anyone that’s been a regular reader.
I wrote about this back in November, but in order to deal with this, I asked for help. And I got it.
From a counselor.
And this little journey has been incredible.
I started out by utilizing the EAP at my work. I figured, why not start there and see what happens. Easier said than done. It only took me, oh, I don’t know, a month or more to finally make the phone call to get in. Only one person knew I was contemplating doing this. Renee didn’t even know. She knew I was having some challenges, but not to the extent that I was. So after some encouragement, I made the call.
After my first visit, I don’t know what I was so afraid of. It was great. Refreshing. Say what you want. No judgment. No anything. Just say it. And then hear some interesting questions and statements. Continue that for a while and it was like, damn, this isn’t so bad! Actually, wait, this feels good.
So those sessions only continued for a bit before it was recommended to me to try this other type of therapy with a different counselor.
So, I made that call. I asked for help. Because I needed it. I needed to get a handle on loss. I needed to not be absorbed. I had a horrible situation in my life. But I’m no different than anyone else. I had to stop letting it consume me and who I was. I had to stop it from taking over even more of me.
I had to change my attitude. I simply had to change. Constantly consumed by this.
So in November, I started meeting this other counselor a few times a month. We just finished earlier this month. And, I gotta tell you, I didn’t want to finish. But, we were at a good breaking point, so I’m test driving what I learned, so to speak. If I need some more guidance, I just call him back up.
But through the course of our work, he helped me. Immensely. He was the first person to really understand what was going in my head. (I know, poor guy.) He learned quickly what bothered me, how it bothered me and why it bothered me. And, he helped me learn to deal with that.
We spent sessions going over every minute detail of an event — finding clues and other things as to what my behavior was and how I reacted in certain circumstances. The point being, if I felt those things again, I could getter a quicker (and better) handle on them.
He taught me how to slow down. He taught me to find the good. Don’t dwell on the bad, work to find the good. And when you find it, focus on it. Not everything has to be negative, he said. And for you, he so boldly added, that’s where you start. You aren’t giving enough people and things the benefit of the doubt.
Damn. He was kind of right. Things were setting me off. For no reason. I would be in a bad mood just because.
While I knew that my counselor was making a difference because of what I felt inside, I wasn’t totally sure if the outside world was noticing a difference. Well, turns out they were. A variety of people said they noticed a difference in me. For the better.
I was worried about January and June…those are my two worse months to deal with loss. Well, with a twist on things and a new perspective, I was able to turn negatives into positives and those months didn’t wear me down this year like they have in the past.
One of the most interesting things we talked about was feelings. I have incredibly strong feelings about a lot of things. My problem? I apparently don’t always express them. And when I do, I need to think a step or two ahead sometimes.
He was pushing me hard to work more on feelings….on expressing them. And I said, you know what, let’s see how things go and we can revisit that if necessary.
And I am getting better. It’s not easy. But I’m trying. I’m trying at home. I’m trying at work. I’m trying with friends. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not.
But, the point is, I stopped going for now because I had success accomplishing what it is I wanted to in fact accomplish through this. It wasn’t easy…but strangely enough, it was fun. Because there was no hiding. Everything was real. And my guy had a way of pushing my buttons. He knew what it would take to get me to fully engage. And he did it. Well.
So, yeah, I’m going to miss talking to him on a regular basis. He helped me immensely by giving me understanding and helping me realize that I can do this. That I don’t have to dwell on negative. That if I look hard enough, I can, in fact, find the positive.
And, well, I know that if I need it, I can go back. And it’ll be much easier arranging an appointment this time than last. Because, well, like my father said, all you have to do is ask for help and people will give it.
Those that know me the best will tell you — it’s hard for me to look at something differently.
I like comfort. I like routine. I like tradition. That’s not to say I can’t be spontaneous, because I can. In fact, I probably need that more than I need comfort, routine and tradition — but that’s an entire separate entry.
Today, I looked at something that I know all to well with a completely new perspective.
And, are you ready?
It helped. A lot.
I went to a funeral today. Yes, I know. Here we go, more death and dying. Well, look, if you read me, you know that’s an area I’m well-versed in. It’s also an area I’m sort of fascinated with. So, um, there.
The grandfather of a dear friend passed away last week. I never met this man, but I feel like I know him from all the stories my friend has told me — and especially after all I’ve learned about him since his passing.
My friend was close — very close — to her grampa. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy for her. And I knew that fact combined with my own funeral issues wouldn’t make this easy for me. But, where else was I supposed to be? Nowhere except paying tribute to this man by supporting my friend. So, off I went.
The thing is, it was a much different funeral experience than I’ve ever had. First, it was in the funeral home. I’ve only been to a funeral that is part of a church service. So, that’s all I knew. Anything else would be compared to that. Sorry, but that’s what I do.
So part of my nervousness was wondering what would be different and how it would make me feel. The last funeral I was at, well, wasn’t pretty. And the last thing I wanted to do was get emotional today that others took notice. This wasn’t about me, after all.
The celebrant — and that is the perfect word in this case — stood in front of the gathered crowd and said that while there is obvious sadness, that this day would be a celebration of this man’s life.
A celebration? What’s to celebrate? Well, I can’t help but asking those questions. I mean, he’s dead. Why are we celebrating that? We didn’t celebrat that, obviously. We celebrated his life. And it was pretty cool to see. The celebrant told stories about his life that touched many that were gathered. Then, she opened the floor for anyone to say a few words and share a story. A handful of people did — often drawing laughs.
Laughs. At a funeral. Can you imagine? I couldn’t. (At least before today I couldn’t.)
It was a pretty incredible thing. There was still a scripture reading. There were still songs. There was just one huge difference — this didn’t have the ‘seriousness’ of a Catholic funeral, an occasion, which, in my opinion, is more focused on sorrow than joy.
Don’t get me wrong, there was sorrow today, but the over-arching theme was joy and celebration. And that came through.
So it got me thinking. Surprise, surprise.
How would things have been different in my own life if the two biggest funerals I’ve been to were more celebratory in nature? It also made me question my faith — again.
What slays me at a Catholic funeral in particular is the same thing that I like — the traditional elements. I love funeral hymns. Crazy, I know. But there are some pretty phenomenal songs out there that can be sang at a funeral. I love that element. I love the mass aspect of things and preparing for the next life in heaven. I’m all for that. Truly. But at the same point, those are the things, too, that kill me emotionally about a funeral.
There wasn’t a great religious feel to today — but it was definitely spiritual.
And again, that made me think. It made me open my eyes. It made me take a new perspective on something I’ve had such strong feelings about in the past.
I believe the overall service and how it was done and how it was focused made things much easier for me to deal with — in terms of my own emotions. There were elements I missed, but there were elements I never would have imagined that were so fabulous.
The fact is, I learned a lot today. Not just about the person being ‘celebrated’ but about myself.
I learned that things don’t have to be as I expect them to be. Just because something may be right for me doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.
And, after seeing today and how it all played out, I’m not even sure I know what’s right for me.
Plenty of time, though, left to figure that out. Just good to know that this might be a good starting point for me to look at a lot of things — not just this — in a new perspective.
Thank you, Mr. C. While we never met, I feel like I know you. And, that’s even more evident by the lesson you taught me today. It’s one I hope I can learn from again and again.
There are times, let’s just say, when this parenting thing is hard. Very hard.
Then there are times, let’s just say, when this parenting thing is cool. Very cool.
This post is about one of the cool times. It’s about a five-year-old who did something so cool (at least to me) that I’m not even sure he understands just how cool of a thing he did.
Aidan has always been fascinated by cemeteries — not really sure why. He just has. Knowing that his Uncle Tim and his Papa O are in a cemetery has no doubt given him a better understanding of the entire death ‘process.’ And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.
He came with me to the cemetery on my father’s anniversary. It was freezing cold, so he stayed in the car while I went out and said a quick prayer. I didn’t want to bring him, but he asked some great questions and it was a way for us to connect. So I’m glad I did.
One of the things he asked was who else I knew in the cemetery. I told him I knew a lot of people. He pressed for more information. I told him that the next time we were over at Mimi’s house and it was warm enough, that I’d take him back up and walk through with him and point out the families that I did know.
Sunday, we were over in that area and as we were driving away, he said, “Dad, is it warm enough for the cemetery today?”
Not really wanting to go at that moment, I said, “It’s not that warm, buddy. Why don’t we go another day?”
“But, Dad,” he said, “I want to go now.”
And here’s where he got me.
“I want to meet all the people you know.”
So, to the cemetery we went.
We spent an hour there. He knows my dad and brother’s stones. But I showed him my grandparents’ stone. I showed him the resting spot of a childhood friend who died at age 20. I showed him stones that were ready for the people who haven’t died yet, including my aunt and uncle.
I showed him stones of neighborhood families that I’ve known for more than 30 years.
And then he showed me something. He showed me how much he understands. He showed me how much he gets it. He showed me how much he understands this stuff — even at age five.
Well, even though it was the last day of February, there were still quite a few Christmas baskets out adorning a number of graves. Because of the wind, many had blown over or been blown away from the stones.
Aidan went around the cemetery and fixed more than 50 of these baskets. He made it his mission to make sure each basket was placed properly — and with respect — in front of its respective grave.
I couldn’t believe it as he went from stone to stone, row to row — literally spending 30 minutes fixing these baskets.
I was completely touched watching him do this with such interest and — more importantly — such care and respect.
“Aidan,” I asked, “why do you think people put these baskets here?”
“To remember their friends?”, he asked.
It was good enough for me.
So later in the day when he was running like mad all over the house and pushing his sister around and testing our patience with every word out of his mouth, it was hard to believe that he was the same kid who did something so respectful, so special and so appropriate just a few hours ago.
But, he was. And during that moment in the cemetery, I was, well, incredibly proud.