down the rabbit hole

family: a blessing, a curse, the learned dysfunction, things and people out of our control, the baggage one carries through life. one woman's story of the craziness that makes up her family. the hurts, disappointments, fun, hilarity, tears, laughter, life and death.

10 July 2006

funeral fiasco

it's been far too long since i've posted here. so, here is a sad, yet in some ways amusing post. the memory was brought vividly to mind over the 4th of july weekend and i finally am at a point where i can post it.

my father and i had an extremely tumultuous relationship for most of my young adult life. there were 4 years in which we did not my insistence. my father had been far less than the perfect dad. he was lutheran pastor who, to put in politely, couldn't keep his pants zipped. worse yet, he chose to fuck women in his congregations.....and always managed to get caught. his problem was the cause for much strife in our family life....much as my mom tried to keep it a secret.

4 years prior to my move to new york, dad and i (along with my brother gerry) met with a therapist. dad finally took responsibility for his errant behavior, paving the way for a reconciliation and an eventual healthy relationship between us. he ended up being the only family member supportive of my move to nyc.

as i departed for the city, my father was diagnosed with copd (a nice acronym for emphysema). he'd smoked for most of his life but had quit in his early 60's. unfortunately, that was too late. i spent a good share of my first two years in nyc traveling back to illinois to visit him, especially when he ended up in the hospital.

my father died after lung surgery to try and give him better quality of life for the time he had left. the surgery came too late.......he was in a drug-induced coma for two weeks to see if his lungs would heal from the surgery. they didn't. his "new" wife and the surgeon made a decision to turn off the jet ventilator he was on and let him go. he deserved the peace. besides, the surgery really hadn't helped.

i made plane reservations to get home to see him before they turned off the vent. he died before i reached his bedside. i was unconsolable. i'd wanted to say good-bye. we'd talked the day he went in for surgery. we'd said our "good-byes" then.....just in case. but i felt awful not being there when he left this earth. the nurses knew i was on my way, so they cleaned him up and left him for me to say my farewell to my father's corpse......not exactly the same.

being the wise man that he could be and to avoid the inevitable arguments with his "new" wife (a whole other, often funny subject), dad had planned his entire funeral. he was a veteran of wwII, but declined to have the military honors he was entitled to saying that since he didn't serve overseas, he was not truly untitled (dad could be humble at times). he also requested to be buried in civilian clothes instead of his clerics. i'm a common man.....bury me as a common man. he understood the mistakes he'd made.

the funeral was slated for 3 july. the presiding minister was the bishop of the synod. a man, that for many reasons, our family did not respect. true to family irreverence, we referred to him as "banana beak". oh, i know.......shameful and we'll all go to hell! we were not looking forward to his homily. we knew it would not be true to who our father was. thankfully, my brother was also speaking at the funeral.

dad had arranged for visitation to happen for 2 hours before the funeral. he knew that gerry, his family and i would be coming from a distance. he wanted things to be as easy as possible for us.

as we milled around, greeting the people that came to pay their respects to dad, gerry, hannah and i would touch base occasionally......making jokes about family issues, dad's indiscretions, the "new" wife. it was our way of making the day tolerable.

my parents were married for 37 years. he'd been married to the "new" wife for 10. she'd barred my mom from visiting dad in the hospital......and he wanted to see her, to reconcile, apologize for the awful things he'd done. it was a shitty thing for sandra to do to mom. but that's her......her reason for her affair and eventual marriage to my father was that god told me to marry a pastor. the nerve! sandra also refused to allow my mother to attend the funeral. now mom had dealt with him, his indiscretions and other issues for 37 years.....not to mention bearing his 3 children.

mom felt terrible, but, classy woman that she could be, deferred to sandra. we encouraged her to go. friends offered to bring her and just sit quietly in the back. she politely declined. choosing to meet us afterwards to be supportive to her children. that's class!

about 20 minutes before the beginning of the funeral, the bishop arrived. my niece, in a loud voice announced:

hey, banana beak is here!

ssshhhhhhhhhh! that name is not for public knowledge!

my dear sister just laughed at her daughter.

time for the funeral to begin........up until this point, hannah had been laughing and joking about many things. as soon as they closed the casket, wheeled it into the church and seated the family, she broke into the loudest sobs i'd ever heard. she could have riveled the professional italian mourners one sees in the movies. that's not to say that the rest of didn't cry, but we did not wail at the top of our lungs. knowing my sister as i did.....i saw through the act. she would have won best actress for most over the top performance if she'd been in a movie.

seated in the front pew, hannah continued to wail as her daughter patted her shoulder and i handed her extra kleenex. thankfully, she quieted for my brother's short eulogy.

gerry did a great job of acknowledging my father's faults in speaking about the "all to human, sinful side to us all". he also talked about the great lessons he had learned from dad. gerry spoke from the heart while choking back his own tears. i was proud of him. he painted a true picture of my dad.....talking about the good and the not so good. dad would have been pleased.

the bishop's homily was as was the greatest pastor and human being on the face of the earth. it annoyed me......the insincerity and dishonesty presented by the bishop. sandra sat and nodded her agreement through the homily. what else could she do?

thankfully, the burial was brief and (with the exception of the return of hannah's wailing) without drama. we piled into my brother's suv and headed to pick up mom.

giving her an overview of the services (minus our irreverence and hannah's wailing), she was proud of her son for being honest and caring in his eulogy. she had a difficult time dealing with her grief and the missed opportunity to say her good-byes.

we all traveled to my brother's for the remainder of the 4th of july holiday. nobody was in the mood for fireworks (well, except for hannah who pouted because we weren't going to drive to madison for the big show).

it's not fair that marie has to miss the fireworks!

uh hannah, dad was just buried. i think she can watch them on t.v. this once!

hannah pouted the remainder of the evening. the rest of us sat around going through old pictures, talking about the good and bad times. it was a healing time for us as a family. to look back over the awful things that transpired due to dad's issues and find the humor and lessons learned helped ease the pain.

it's been 9 years since we buried my father. there are times i still miss him, his encouragment and the easiness of his personality. the guy had charisma......he was also smart and funny. he was a good man with a fatal that haunted him (and us) throughout his career. but in the end, dad knew what he'd done, the pain he'd caused. i respect him for that. and it's a lesson i will carry with me always........

dad was a football fan.....the minnesota vikings. to this day, as football season approaches i miss talking to him about the prospects of the vikes and on game day miss the "can you believe that (insert correct verb for situation here) play/call/stupid brother and i still partake in this particular family pastime.

i love you, dad..........and if you have any pull.......can you make sure it's a good year for the vikes?


At 11 July, 2006 13:41, Blogger Paul said...

Lovely post Rose,
families, what would we do without them.
The good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.
We are who we are largely because of our family.
I reckon they did a good job with you Rose. :-)

At 11 July, 2006 15:13, Blogger rose said...

sometimes they did do a good job.....i think between myself and my therapist we do a better one ;-)

At 27 August, 2006 21:05, Blogger stefanmedo said...

As always, not only a beautiful read, but very relatable in parts and a good reminder of what's probably the most important in life. Thanks for that.


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