On our first day back East, we went to the funeral home to make arrangements. The funeral was the next day but apparently you can wait until the last minute to go over the details. So we did. One of our tasks was to get Dad clothes to wear in the casket. After our meeting, we headed straight to his house to pick up a suit.
We had two keys. They were marked “Upper front door,” and “Lower front door” in masking tape. I watched the kids in the driveway. My husband tried “Upper front door.” Jiggled it. No luck. He tried “Lower front door.” Jiggled it. No luck.
“DAMMIT!” said my husband.
“Dammit!” said my two-year-old.
“Nothing can be easy with him!” my husband said. “Do you have any other keys?”
“Nooo,” I said. “I can go ask the neighbor. The aide left Dad’s keys with her.”
“Go ask the neighbor,” my husband said. “I’ll watch the kids.”
I walked down the hill toward the lake and knocked on the neighbor’s door. It was 3:00 on a Monday. Please, please, I thought. I heard footsteps. Hallelujah! She answered the door and asked what happened to my dad. She said, “I had a feeling he died,” and invited me in. I looked back at my husband in the driveway but I didn’t want to be rude. She asked me to sit down and tell her the story of Dad’s demise. I did, and then mentioned that my husband was watching the kids up the hill. She apologized for keeping me and handed me a bundle of six key rings, each with different keys.
She let me go and I headed up the hill, took over minding the kids and my husband tried each key in the front door. No luck. I ran to the back door with a key, because the aide had been wheeling Dad out the back door and it made sense that the back door key would be on the ring. No luck. Out front, my husband stuck a key marked “garage” in the sliding glass door, which was not at all part of the garage.
“GOT IT!” he said.
I pushed aside the black-mold-laden drapes and the smell wafted out the door, overwhelming us. Mildew, must and moth balls. It was sunny outside and the house was dark. My husband stayed outside with the kids. We didn’t want to subject them to my dad’s air. Upstairs I found every drape pulled shut, every shade drawn. I opened the living room windows a bit before heading upstairs. I looked in my father’s armoire. No suit. In his closet — my mom’s clothes — no suit. I tried the spare room closet. No suit. I remembered he used to use the closet in the living room because my mom’s clothes took up their entire closet. I headed down there. Two suits! Now for his shirt. I hadn’t seen shirts anywhere either. Went back to the armoire and checked the drawers. T-shirts, socks and underwear. I remembered we used to hang clean clothes in the basement. Headed down there. Jackpot! I grabbed a shirt and headed out.
We dropped off the suit at the funeral home and headed to my BFF’s house for the night, exhausted. In the morning, we all headed out for the funeral. I wrote the eulogy in the car. I thought I should say something, but before then, I just didn’t know what to say, beyond maybe reading excerpts of the blog, and that seemed kind of disrespectful. Three of my cousins were at the church, as were two of Dad’s neighbors. The grand total of attendees was nine, including my two kids. I told the priest that I wanted to present a eulogy and he looked annoyed — it was Greek Easter week and he had a lot to do — but he acquiesced.
The priest started the ceremony and I had that old familiar feeling of being embarrassed to be Greek. In Greek church, the priest recites each part of the ceremony in Greek, then in English, Greek, then English, making us look much more foreign than we were. My voice broke and I teared up a little reading the eulogy, but I recovered. After my eulogy, the priest opened the casket and blessed Dad’s body and I saw the top of Dad’s head. We were sitting down at the time but I wanted to stand up and see him. I could see his head and the tip of his nose, but it still seemed unreal. I thought if I saw the body, it would help me process his death. But everyone was sitting down and I didn’t want to break social convention so I stayed seated. The priest knew him, so it had to be him in there, plus his head was sticking up out of the coffin because his back was so bent that he couldn’t lie flat.
Once the ceremony was over, we headed to our cars. I had told the funeral home to take the highways to the cemetery because when my mom died, they’d taken us on a circuitous route through four towns and two of my cousins got lost. What I didn’t know was that the procession couldn’t travel over 40 miles an hour, so we took an excruciatingly long trip to the cemetery. My husband said it was like Dad was driving. Both of Dad’s neighbors had left so we were a pretty short procession, but even so, with all the lights and turns going through town, the highway really was the best route.
At the cemetery, Dad’s neighbor — his diner buddy – waited for us. It was nice to see that he was there. The priest performed the ceremony, the funeral director offered us flowers and invited everyone to the luncheon, but one by one, they told us that they had to go and we were left there, my family and my BFF. I cancelled the lunch reservation and the five of us went to an Italian restaurant. On the way there, my husband said, “Man, I hope more people come to my funeral.”
“I hope so too,” I said. “But you know, that was the kind of man my dad was. He didn’t make friends.” My husband can talk to anybody, but he doesn’t make an effort to cultivate friends. He lived near a military base as a boy and whenever he’d make a friend, the kid would move away, so he just stopped forming attachments. I hope that the one thing he learned from the funeral was that it’s important to have friends, at least if you want your funeral to be well-attended.
It still seems unreal. I wish I had stood up in the church and seen his body. Even as I considered it, I was telling myself it was then or never, but I didn’t do it. Handling his affairs has also had an unreal quality to it. It’s not like I expect him to show up and demand his money, but the finality of it still hasn’t hit me. The finality of his death hasn’t hit the blog, either. I still have posts about my dad, so please stay tuned.