Grief is a still, small voice that gently reminds you of its sender in the loud and quiet times, but particularly when you’ve found some period of less discomfort while your world is crashing. My father is dead.
We sat around a long, high table in the beautiful, but too warm, atrium of our small town hotel. Quiet hugs, handshakes and tearful smiles were the language of our introductions and it was all we could do to keep from ripping our clothes and crying out in pain. That time had come and gone.
We crowd-sourced ideas on how to plan a funeral and made checklists for all of the things that needed to be done to get pop’s affairs in order. Select a funeral home, take a cemetery tour to choose a plot, find a space large enough to host the number of people expected, decide on the official statement about the cause of death for a man who was both well-loved and very private. Many of us had experienced death before, none of us knew what came next.
After some semblance of an action plan was scrawled on tear-soaked paper, an impromptu moment of memory-telling had us leave later than expected. Someone made a joke that we were actually ok because Marcellus would’ve certainly been late anyway. That laugh was the first I’d had since I heard the news, but it was short-lived because my dad is still dead. Unspoken, that fact quickly spread around the table and we got up to leave.
In three separate visits we started the work of breaking up pop’s apartment. First, it was all of us taking a moment to see what condition things were in and to spend time in the space breathing the last air he breathed. In that time we uncovered a few things that informed us of the indescribable pressure he was under in his final months. He was well known for his smile, ability to illuminate a room and how he made you feel like any moment together was the single-most important event in history. Did his silent stressors coerce his body into betraying him? Would we have been able to intervene if we’d pried hard enough?
The second time was myself, my brother and our sole uncle, not far from us in age, separating my father’s things into piles to keep, donate, and throwaway. We told our best stories, our most honest experiences and bore the task of collecting his unmentionables as seriously as preparing his body ourselves. On the final trip we descended in full task force mode, making light work of what we could get done before the actual ceremony the next day.
Before the service, I had the distinct honor of trimming my father’s beard for the last time. This thing that’s already an intimate experience with the living, is a chore I wish you never have to finish with the dead; but in that same breath, I’m immensely grateful that it fell to my hands.
That night we were hosted by his rugby club in a dimly lit bar that felt like home. Shoulders were clapped and drinks lifted in toast to a man who lived well beyond his 50 years and touched practically every single life in this glorious, little shit town in Southeast Missouri. At one point, my brother, sister and I stood around holding each other, crying while everyone in the bar pressed in closer allowing us the moment. I laughed at so many jokes, threw darts from one of his favorite lines and my dad is still dead.
Grief is taking a moment from your grieving to explain to yourself the merits of your anger, and anger at God specifically, even at the protest of the stolen faith and beliefs you’ve been clawing back to since the wee hours of your mourning.
During the visitation on the day of the funeral, I shook no less 500 hands, gave countless hugs. I counted to keep from crying, but lost track of the number of times my tears bested my best efforts and fell to soften the ground for pop’s return.
To begin the service, something close to 50 men gathered at the back of the room, towering over all of us, the weight of their presence shifting everyone’s energy. We all watched silently as they marched forward in loose formation, retired his jersey and bowed to weep into his casket.
By the time we made it to the gravesite, the sun had reached it’s highest point and I couldn’t tell if both the heat and colors of everything were naturally turned up, or if my cry-weary eyes were now just sensitive to a day that was inconsiderately beautiful.
With all of the services done, our guests fed and a quick nap for all of us, we celebrated the life of my dad the only way he would’ve had it — breaking the day all liquored up and dancing until we sweat through our clothes. My father is dead and I haven’t made peace with that yet but, for every time I know that thought will slip under my covers quietly in the night, I’ve been armed with a story of how he personally changed someone’s life. I’ll be able to remember how he never missed a moment to tell me how proud he was of me. I’ve collected enough stories and laughs to last me until the next time I see him and something of a treasure map back to the people who can give me more if I ever find myself in short supply. The last thing we said to each other was I love you and he showed up at his own funeral just to make sure I knew it was true.