The activity and event dominating my last week (and my mother’s last couple of weeks) has come and gone: my father’s memorial service. I saved my mother some trouble by managing the menu and food delivery. I saved her more trouble by not arguing with her over anything; by making food for company the night before. By giving her the space to have a hard time if she needed to.
The morning of Saturday was hard. I’d given myself too much to get done. My friends Abi, Cynthia, and Amore stepped in and helped quite a bit. We had a friend on coffee detail (three carafes full) and we had music flowing through the house. Music I grew up with; music my father loved that I’d set aside.
My childhood home filled up with people: from my life as a child, family stretching back before my birth; friends from then, friends from Port Townsend, friends from now. Neighbors, coworkers. At one point on the sunny front porch I looked up and saw three of my girlhood friends – I’ve known since I was eight years old – running up the stairs looking for me. They looked curiously like three distinct kinds of flower. They were beautiful and I was glad to see them. They came back downstairs and we shared childhood stories, stories of high school and college and marriage and children we had and children to come. We laughed and laughed and laughed and told brash stories.
At about 2:30 on my mother’s request we gathered to speak a few words about my father. My mother was nervous and antsy. She tried to speak normally, but it came off to me as a sermon. Some things she said flowed well. I felt her real presence when she said, “we had two wonderful kids… and they each have some of David’s nature.” My sister spoke then and watching her, I felt myself break down a bit. People gradually offered up their thoughts and every word meant something to me.
I started speaking. I said I’d been here for his life fighting cancer. I’d been here for his last week, days, hours, been here more and more. I was with him when he died. I don’t remember what all I said. I do know I spoke my thoughts – wondering if, when he was dying, he knew what a hole he’d leave in our lives. I tried to say something of the blow it had felt like in the days after he left. At some point I realized the laughter in the room had turned to sobs – some open, some muffled in throats. I had more to say but I felt breathless. I had only wanted to say a few words but more wanted to spill out.
I did my best but I felt far from eloquent.
Others spoke and shared. Lots of laughter and a few tears. My mother’s coworker Lillian spoke of life in a way that so clearly communicated her dignity in the face of loss; her words were wisdom to me. Childhood friends Missy and Tony spoke words of my father that meant a great deal to hear. My friend Cynthia spoke of knowing my father through me, and how unique my father walked in the world. The room laughed and thought – not thought about only my father, but their own lives, their own loves. Do they think of them, care for them every day?
The ensuing silence was broken by my daughter, flashing in with ruffled skirt and holding my mother’s hands in urgency. Sophie tries to whisper, “Grandma, we need a jar – we caught a garden snake!” her pigtail braids electric with excitement. Laughter breaks like crystal and the sun settles on those in the room, moving on, moving up for more food and coffee and conversation.
Long after the party was over I came home and was gifted with an hour to myself. I ran the bath and laid on the couch and listened to the music I’d set aside for earlier. The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Willlie Nelson, Cat Stevens. Something about the song I’d heard so much as a child: “this is the peace train,” the voices break out with harmony, and I was suddenly flooded with memories of my childhood, the warmth, the music, the safety. Then overcoming me were some of those things I hadn’t loved. And then those things I’d loved again and I cried again. I felt my life telescoped, and how much my father had been a part of all of it.
I miss you so very, very much, dad. I always knew I would, and it’s still true every day.