Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Funerals, Part II

Part I

The next day I hopped into the car for the day and a half trip back to Missouri, only six weeks after I had been there for Mom’s non-funeral. Caretaker told me that Dad’s body already was on its way to Arkansas and a service would be either that weekend or the following Monday. I needed to hurry.

Only Son already had agreed to drive with me to Arkansas. I needed his support; besides, he had lived with my parents during his freshman year of college, and had fond memories. Two of my brothers, Caretaker and Youngest, would drive in another car. No one else could afford the short notice plane fare or get off work long enough to make the trip. We hated that so few of us would be there. Dad deserved more.

Immediately following Mom’s death, Dad discussed his own wishes for his "mortal remains". “I’ve got it all arranged,” he said. “Everything is paid for. Call John Doe Funeral Home, and they’ll take care of everything. I don’t want a full service, but I would like some prayers said before I’m buried. And I want some of your mother’s ashes in the coffin with me.”

As I drove, I thought, “A few prayers before I'm buried...” Yikes, who would do that? Apparently reading my mind, Caretaker’s wife called my cell phone (I had my headset on just in case).

“Youngest says you are far enough along in your religious studies to say the prayers Dad wanted. Are you?” she asked.

“Well, I could do it,” I said. “But I’d rather not.” My father had died as well as theirs, after all. But just in case, I had tossed my prayer book and Bible into my bag, and knew where I could borrow an alb. I did not tell her that.

Long silence. “How much would it cost to hire a preacher?” she asked. None of my brothers had any money; just to make the trip incurred financial hardship for both Caretaker and Youngest.

“I’ll take care of finding someone,” I said. In another post, I mentioned what I did to cover the graveside service.

On arrival to my Missouri hometown, Caretaker detailed what the plans were. Meet with the funeral director on Sunday afternoon, then graveside service on Monday morning. That way we could leave Sunday morning and return Monday night. I wanted to look around a day; the area held pleasant childhood memories. But Caretaker and Only Son had to get back to their jobs so that was impossible.

The six hour drive to central Arkansas was lovely. The trees in the Ozark Mountains were transforming from summer green to autumn scarlet, just gorgeous. While admiring the scenery, I reveled in the rare alone time with Only Son. Before my mother died, we had not had time for just the two of us in nine years. It took the death of my parents for us to have the space to reconnect.

The meeting with the funeral director did not take long. Just as Dad had said, everything was arranged and paid. We gasped when the funeral director pointed out how much all of the services would cost today had Dad not made the arrangements in 1991--triple what he had paid! (Now I’m convinced that pre-need is the way to go.) Fortunately I had a favorite photo of Dad with me; the funeral director scanned it for the service leaflet. Only Son brought a long sleeved white shirt to dress the body in; my brothers brought Dad’s favorite tie and slacks. There was nothing more for us to do.

Only Son and I decided to poke around a bit, while Caretaker and Youngest drove back to the motel. We drove through the then brand new subdivision where the pre-school me had lived. Amazing, I thought, how much a place can change in almost fifty years. Amazing how much a person can, too.

The big shock came when we drove past the house that my grandfather had had especially designed and built for him and his wife in the mid 1950s. They were proud of that house and its blue fescue lawn, and worked hard to keep it all a showcase. Many times they won the local garden club’s Yard of the Month. Even in 1989 at the time of my last visit, it remained pristine.

When we drove around the corner, past the well manicured lawns of the neighbors, I asked Only Son, “Where’s the house?” Then I realized that the dump with trash stuffed to the carport ceiling and the sagging, rotted fence was the place on which Grandad once had lavished such attention. The whitewash slapped onto the once lovely cedar siding was the final insult. No other house around was in such sad shape. Surely my grandfather was spinning in his grave.

Any appetite for further sight seeing suddenly left me. We returned to the motel in silence.

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