Last April I got another phone call from my older sister about a parent passing away. This time it was my dad, and the phone call was the only similarity between this and my mom’s situation.
He died in a car accident on the way home from the store. He lived far from the rest of the family in South Carolina, and she was the only one of us kids that had been visiting. On previous visits, she had broached the topic of end-of-life planning but he wasn’t interested in talking about it other than to agree that she’d take care of things. So she had to go through all of his things, figure out what to sell and to who, all of that stuff. She also took care of his cremation in order to provide us kids time to figure out the logistics of his burial.
Yesterday, some 442 days after he passed, we finally had his service at a veteran’s cemetery in Connecticut. It was attended by about fifteen people, just us kids and spouses and grandkids (mine stayed home) and some of my sister’s college friends. There was a flag ceremony using the flag that he’d been given when he retired over forty years ago, and someone played taps. My sister had a deacon from her parish speak, then my sister spoke. She described him as a stern figure with high expectations for his kids and an occasional playful side. I had prepared something which included a couple of stories12. My brother told a story about my dad joining him on a dependent cruise (both of them were on submarines) and Dad spent almost the entire time geeking out with the sonar guys, which is definitely him. My other sister declined to speak and left soon after, declining to attend the after-service lunch, which is definitely her.
After the lunch, both my other siblings invited me to hang out with them, but I had decided to visit my mother’s grave for the first time since her funeral. I drove down to the cemetery where she was buried in a thunderstorm. The road in front had all the asphalt removed so it was super bumpy, and it was graduation day at the high school next door so traffic was mad. Good times. Anyway, I got there and realized I had no idea how to find her actual grave. The cemetery office was closed (it was ten to five on a Friday) so I reached out to my siblings and they gave me some good directions and I eventually found it. I spent about ten minutes talking to her before jumping in the car for an hour-long ride back to the hotel. I’m sitting in a coffee shop writing this, and when I finish I’ll head back to the airport to go home.
I miss you, Dad. I’m glad you were able to be part of my life, late bloomer that I was. You made it to my wedding and to my college graduation, sitting with Mom and everyone else. I will never forget the way you held my daughter in your arms, as if she was the most precious thing you had ever seen. And I was telling the truth at your service when I said I do think of you often when I’m facing a marital or parenting challenge — that people make mistakes, and what matters the most is what they do next, how they make amends.
Thank you, Dad, for everything.
In 1997 I was in a jam, my relationship had ended and the car I’d been using to get to work was hers not mine. So I asked my dad to co-sign a car loan. Come the day of the transaction, he called me at work and said he wasn’t going to sign the documents. Why? Because there was a line in there about insurance against his death which would pay off the car entirely. He didn’t like that, so he was going to drive a hundred miles to where I was to get it fixed. I called the receptionist and said that my dad was coming, and she asked what he looked like. I said to imagine me, thirty years older, and really pissed off. ↩︎
This other story shows that us kids got our wit from both sides of the family. On the way to RPI we were going through the Berkshires and there was a sign that said “Trucks test brakes” which I read aloud. He tapped the brakes and they did indeed work. I asked him what he would have done if they hadn’t worked, and he said he would develop a latent ability to steer. ↩︎