We didn't say "he died surrounded by his loving family," not only because that's what he wanted, but it wasn't fully true. If it was true enough for Dad, great. What remains for those who couldn't be there during his moments will be a weight that could bend their back forever. The obituary itself took up the most columns in the local newspaper that day. We did use what he wrote but he forgot to mention a few things about himself. We added what we thought was incontrovertible. Nice touch by my brother mentioning the James Street neighborhood.
We did some high religious ritual in order to make it comfortable for those grieving in the family whose truth is found in high religious ritual. We also did non-religious ritual which offered an opening for raw if not sweet honesty with respect. This is what the children will likely remember most. There were two infants and four luscious cheeks among the gathered. I remember how I sat thinking about nibbling on these cheeks, as I gazed at my cute Dad in his casual attire, with his peaceful and kind, slight smile. I knew he would approve of my daydreaming about the babies, even in the middle of his sombre death rite.
There was no way I could pick out a passage from Tales of the Wayside Inn and share it at his service. It was too much about men and too much about migration. Contentious issue right now. And so I picked a passage from Longfellow to put on his prayer card. I sent it through my brother as my selection. I also told him that if he prefers something more religious, to feel free to use his own judgement. I said, "I trust you." And I did. He chose the Longfellow piece and added a little more. We had already delighted in our own cleverness of not choosing a picture of a saint. Are you kidding me? Of course I have pictures of Dad's Adirondack paintings on my phone here. How about this one? From my phone through the air across the table went Dad's art, "Rowboat into the Sunset at Nelson Lake." I felt bad about not using the Tales of the Wayside Inn piece because he mentioned it specifically. But then I saw how it was to be included. My son gave his piece of eulogy in recalling the first time he was old enough to be taken to the Wayside Inn to share ONE coo-woo (America's first cocktail) with Grandpa. Okay, chuckle-chuckle, Dad. Now I get it. You're funny.
So now the request for Moonlight Cocktail made sense to me, except it would be inappropriate for the service with the grandchildren or great-grandchildren. I speak for myself in saying that I took the message as encouragement, by Dad, on the eve of his final death rites -- that is, to have the second best cocktail (according to him). I had a dirty martini, at Jack's in Albany. I had TWO, actually. I was able to breathe, laugh and cry and feel sweet about everything. Thank you Dad, one of them WAS for you, you know.... I see you smiling.
As far as "Memories of You," I soon learned how many versions existed. I wondered why Dad wanted the Rosemary Clooney one instead of Frank Sinatra. Because it's specific and available, I go with the Rosemary Clooney version. I run it by our resident, family serenader to stroke it on his violin strings. Yes, sure, said the violinist. I asked mydaughter if she's interested in singing. I say it's up to her, because it is. But next thing we knew is was the eve of my father's memorial. l try to gently clarify, "are you up for signing tomorrow?" "What?" my daughter asks. And then there it was. I heard myself say, "sing Rosemary Clooney. Grandpa wanted the Rosemary Clooney version of 'Memories of You.'" "I'll try," she said. Well, my son-in-love did play his violin and my daughter did sing. She cried a little bit. It was all so lovely because I think we were all feeling good and peaceful as we watched Dad be sung to: a final lullabye while the children nestled on laps and against napes. I guess it was so meaningful that a picture was taken in the middle of this musical rite. Unforgettable.
We were concerned about not having calling hours. We thought part of the healing would be to give our family a last glimpse at those who remember Dad and could speak of his goodness. But by a week ago, the "quick" part of the directive was the most valuable detail Dad anticipated. So we just did it, as well as we could, without delay. The Facebook town square gave our family more than deserved condolences for our loss. We have felt quite loved.
Thank you for the clues Dad. We hope you think it turned out as excellent as it did. You never said we weren't special. You never said we were. You modeled not going overboard with accolades, and you demonstrated how to show up. Dad, thank you for being the ballast that kept us alive. We know that other things did too but your steadiness has been constant grace.
You taught us your most prized possession was your treasury of stories we called, When You Were A Little Boy. You made everything sound fun, you made being poor feel rich, you describe the scarcity as the reason for the jazz. You could have told your childhood stories differently. You could have told your adult story differently, But you never did. You told it good, whether it was or wasn't; and you meant it. Well played, Dad.
I almost forgot. You also said (with your eyes closed, and your crooked shaking figure showing me to the words you were seeing),
"In. Lieu. of. Flowers. give to any children's charity." Before you said Shriners or St. Jude's Hospital, Dad.
"Oh right. Whatever you think best. Just do something for children who are suffering, whatever it is, wherever you are."