I have long known that a funeral or memorial service is more for those who are left than for the person who is gone. A good funeral is the last thing we can really do for our loved one. It is the last send off, the last honor, the last “right” thing that is left.
And so it was with my father’s memorial service this past weekend. The church service was beautiful, an Easter service of celebration. He passed away on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, one of his most cherished religious seasons. Dad respected Lent as a time of quiet introspection. And he had made peace with his situation, so it is fitting that this Lenten season is about grief and grieving. Forty days to reflect on the past 7-8 months. It is as if he knew. And maybe he did.
At the service there was the family including all of my siblings. It was truly wonderful to have us all together along with aunts and cousins. My three longest and best friends were there for me, sitting behind me to give me strength, catch me if I fell or make funny faces at me if it looked like I couldn’t make it through the service. They are the reason I could breath.
And when the service was close to and end, the Honor Guard came, played Taps and presented my father’s flag to me. If you have never seen that presentation, it is beautiful. They march out, at attention, then Taps is played. When that is done, they slowly, silently, purposefully, unfold and refold the flag. Every movement is crisp and marked by a click of their heels. And when the flag is folded, and they give the proper respect to it, they march, at attention, and kneel down to the next of kin. They say thank you, on behalf of the President of the United States, and of the country and of the Air force (or whichever branch). I sobbed. I gently accepted his flag as tears ran down my cheeks. And my tears fell on my fathers flag before I could get a tissue. That flag is sacred to me.
And then the celebration of life, and the stories and the beer and the food. I heard the food was delicious and what little bit I ate definitely was. I spoke, as well as several other friends and family members. And I learned a few things about this humble, quiet man I called Dad. There was laughter, there were a few tears and there were a lot of hugs and much love.
The siblings got together afterward, along with my Angels, and we had a great time talking and taking time to decompress after the last several days. And there was a lot of wine.
And then there was quiet. And there is still quiet. A silence that is a bit uncomfortable as the finality of the situation sets in. They are really gone. And life moves forward. But what life is this that lay before me? For the first time in 8 years I am taking care of only me. And I am not sure I know what to do with myself. One part is very liberating – knowing that you have done right by your parents and loved ones. And another part is terrifying, not remembering what you did before.
It is the blue after the storm. That time after the service, after the commotion, after the shock, after the after…where things are quiet and you are left to figure out the “new normal.” No doubt I will be fine, as everyone goes through this at some point in their life. But it is unsettling and strange. A person is still delicate in this time.
There was no quiet after Mom passed; it went straight into Dad moving in and me taking care of an elderly parent. It was chaos for 7.5 months. So this in new. And if I am honest, it is a bit scary. The empty nest…but I am sure I will find my way, awkwardly as always. But eventually I’ll get the hang of this thing called life. The fact of the matter is that they are gone. I am here. Life is here.
In the meantime, as I learn to sleep alone in the house, I am wrapped up in the peace and knowledge that I did right by the Bible and honored my parents. When they are gone, having done right by your parents is the most comfortable pillow in the world.