(This is the first of probably three installments about the experience of my dad's funeral with its context. Thanks for humoring me.)
“I feel much better after seeing Dad in his coffin. He looked really good,” I said as I steered my car into freeway traffic.
“Why did it make you feel better to see Dad when he was dead?”
I had just picked up my brother Law Enforcer at the airport, two days after our father’s funeral. We were on the interstate heading back to the old hometown.
“After all,” he continued, “Nothing was there except a body. He was gone. Why did you have to see him in his coffin? Why drive all the way to Arkansas for his funeral? He didn’t know.”
No one had ever asked me questions like that. The importance of a funeral was something I never had questioned myself. Law Enforcer is a lawyer, though, and likes to make people think.
After a pause, I said, “Maybe it is because I’ve seen so many other peoples’ dead parents. I just needed to see my own.” The number of dead bodies I have seen in a thirty year nursing career spent in ICU, oncology and hospice number well over a hundred.
Law Enforcer nodded. “That makes sense.” Then we noticed we were on the wrong highway; I missed the exit while pondering his question. That conversation was over.
When Mom had died, Taciturn and I were unable to get there in time. The family members who were within ten minutes of the hospital had the honor of being present when she died. Family and friends who lived within an hour were able to view her body before it was removed to the crematorium. The rest of us were out of luck.
Mom had made it clear she wanted no sort of memorial. “Too much fuss,” she said, and Dad honored her wishes. But at dinner a couple of days after she died, something was off kilter. Was Mom just on vacation? That is what it felt like. Without a final, ritualized goodbye, I was not convinced that my mother really was dead. The only thing that seemed different at dinner was the glazed, sad look that passed through my father’s eyes.
“What is it, Dad?” A silly question, but I asked it anyway.
He shook his head as he returned to the present. “I miss my wife.”
We knew Dad was lonely, so my brothers and I called at least weekly. We worried that something would happen during the six hours a day he would be alone while everyone in the house was at work or school. Dad promised us he would get a cell phone to use in case he fell. Seeking another way to ensure he was well, I asked him if he would be interested in video chat on Skype. Dad was enthusiastic about the idea. I made a mental note to call Caretaker brother, who lived with him, to see if a webcam would work with Dad’s ancient computer.
But Caretaker called me first. He found Dad’s body on the floor between the wall and his bed when he arrived home early to take him for a doctor’s appointment.
Dad missed his wife so much that he could live only two months without her.