Dear Dad – Your Funeral Arrangements

Younger days: Easter Sunday, Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ

Dear Dad,

Things happen so fast after someone dies. Arrangements are made. A funeral home is lined up. Visiting hours are set. A decision is made about whether the casket will be open or closed. A funeral service is organised. A private cremation is scheduled.

I knew when I left you, twelve days ago now, that you would die soon, and I would not return to the U.S. for your funeral. I felt I had been with you when it mattered: when you were alive, when you knew I was there, when I could sit by your side and hold your hand.

But still, it’s hard not to be there now, even though I know if I were there I would undoubtedly be upset and frustrated over the situation with your wife and her family. You know it’s difficult, and I know you would be the first to say, ‘No, don’t come back again.’

I know you loved your wife very much, despite unspeakable difficulties you endured in recent years. I know she was the one you most wanted and needed with you at the end. I prayed she would be with you when the end came. She told me she was nearby, and had just told you she was going to move you home, and you had nodded that you understood and agreed with that plan. I want to believe, and I think I do believe, that the thought of being at home, where you no longer had to worry about her — was she OK, what was she doing, when would you see her again — comforted you enough so that a few moments later, you took your final breath and let go of this life.

Rose petals for Dad, Balmoral Beach, Sydney

Dad, I also know, as well as any widowed person, that this time is more than anything for the surviving spouse. Siblings, parents (if they are still alive, though yours are not), children, and grandchildren may — and often do — enter the scene with their own grief, their own memories, and their own ideas about what should be done to honour your memory. But above all others it is your wife’s right, and in my opinion her obligation, to be as strong as possible and arrange whatever she sees fit to do. Your wife is doing that, and for you I am doing my best to support her long-distance. I’m not sure I agree with the open casket at the visiting hours because you weren’t yourself at the end and I wish those who come would remember you differently. But it’s not my decision to make, and especially because I have chosen not to return for these days, it is not my place to challenge but to support.

Each time I hang up the phone after talking with your wife, I feel guilty because I feel relieved I’m not physically there, in the midst of her family who surrounds her in the house that was yours and hers. It’s their ‘show’ now, and as distasteful as I find parts of it, I also find that what they are planning — the visiting hours and service at the funeral home whose owners have been long-time friends of yours; the gathering afterwards at the country club that was so much a part of your life and lifestyle for many decades; the private cremation — all these events and activities are ones I think you would find appropriate.

Dad, you mellowed somewhat in your life after going through a number of dramatic and traumatic experiences, most of all after losing your son. Years later, you were thrilled to have a grandson, whose middle name, Robert, was after our beloved Rob and your own name. You made the long trip to Australia to see us three times. You even rode bumper cars at Darling Harbour with GR.

Of course, the best and most meaningful aspect of all the arrangements surrounding your death is that my son, your beloved grandson, is flying up to New Jersey to deliver the eulogy at your funeral. Your wife told him you would love this, and I know you would. I love it, too. So I’m spending today going through photographs and writing a few ‘Dear Dad’ paragraphs of my own, to be included in his words of remembrance. Clive is taking great care of me; he holds my hand, dries my tears, scans the photos for the display board they’re preparing of your life, makes endless cups of tea and coffee, and wraps his arms around me when I need a hug.

Dad, I know how proud you are of your grandson, and I can picture you getting a bit choked up that he’ll represent our family and write and deliver the eulogy we want you to have. Amongst your wife’s large family group and the friends and colleagues who gather to pay you their respects, he will stand tall, literally and figuratively, just like you always did, and he will honour your life and your memory.

Grandpa and grandson, Sydney

Thinking of you, Dad.

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4 Responses

  1. Carolyn: I’m impressed and moved by your reactions and thoughts on your dad’s passing and the funeral arrangements. My dad died 20 years ago this month and really, there’s not a day when I don’t think of him. And that’s the comfort — he will always be a part of who you are.

  2. Dearest Carolyn, this is such a moving post… as is the tribute to your dear dad. These posts are very close to my heart, sending you and Clive .. love and prayers. xox

  3. Carolyn, I haven’t been reading your post until today. I am so sorry to hear about your loss. My only memory of your dad was at your birthday party when you were 6 or 7. It was a picnic in the yard and hotdogs were served. It was the first time I had catsup on a hotdog. I thought only mustard went with hotdogs, the catsup was great. Your dad put the catsup on the dog for me. Whenever I eat hotdogs, I have catsup and remember that day. It is a corny memory and maybe it stuck in my head because your dad didn’t live with you so I knew this party was special having him there.

    I had a nice visit with your mom in Ridgewood earlier this month. She seems so well. When speaking to my mom, she was impressed how much she plays bridge each week as my mom can only play once a week.

    I admire your wonderful writing and stories of your family. It is a very nice tribute and memory. How lucky you were to be able to visit your dad when you did.

  4. Thank you for your lovely comments and for taking the time to make them, Anne, anne, and Janet.

    Janet, I especially appreciate your sharing your memory of my father at the birthday party. And Mom loved her recent visit with you and the girls, as she calls us all 🙂

    Thanks again, all, very much.

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