A funeral is a time for as much kindness as can be mustered. The lens of guilt and loss is firmly in place and allows for only loving remembrance. The love is real, but it’s only one side of the coin. During a funeral, when a coin is flipped, it always comes up heads.
My father died last month at the age of 97. In the last years of his life he slipped into dementia, to the point where he eventually recognized no one, not even my loving sister, who visited him at least once a week in his nursing home.
Sophy and I booked a flight to Massachusetts to attend the funeral. During the flight and the days after, Sophy would look at me and say, “Mi amor, it’s all right to cry. You need to cry.”
I didn’t shed a tear. I didn’t feel sad my father was gone. If he could still have expressed an opinion I don’t think he would choose to live in such a reduced state. Maybe I’m missing something—a bedrock truth of existence that all life is sacred. In my heart I believe there’s a time to go and it was my father’s time.
In the days in Massachusetts leading up to the funeral, there were moments of connection with my family and just as many moments of separation.
The day of the funeral, at the memorial service, my sister got up and delivered a simple and heartfelt remembrance. My brother Rich, a writer, gave a finely crafted and humorous review of my dad’s life. Instead of writing anything down, I decided to wing it, although I was nervous about getting up to speak, even though I had a good idea of what I wanted to talk about.
When I walked up to the lectern, the nerves vanished—all of the people there loved my father; he was a loveable guy. As I began to speak I began to fill up with emotion. It felt like there was a bellows in my chest filling up and pushing out air. I said something along the lines of:
“As you can see from all the stories about my dad, he had a lot of courage, flying airplanes when he was still a kid and jumping off the barn with a parachute made of a grain sack and iron chains, breaking his leg. I remember him telling us that when he worked for the airlines in Venezuela, after World War Two, he would drive to work with a loaded .45 on the seat next to his, to fend off rebels if necessary. But there was one thing he was deathly afraid of. Water. He’d never go into the water above his knees. Years and years of my childhood passed and in family photos, my dad is wearing the same brown plaid bathing suit. It never wore out because it never got wet.
Years later, when I was in my 30s, the whole family was vacationing on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. My brothers and I spent whole days on the beach. Usually, the Caribbean Sea is very gentle, with hardly any waves at all. While we were there, a huge storm in the region ended up creating beautiful rolling breakers, perfect for body surfing. The first day, we body surfed for hours, getting great rides but also getting trashed, where you ended up rolling and tumbling underwater, getting ground up in the sand.
The second day—and I don’t know how he got the courage to do this—my dad came out and body surfed with us. This from a guy who never went beyond knee deep in the water. He surfed beside us, because he wanted to be with us, and he wanted to share our joy.”
Then I came to a part where I said, “…on that day he showed us he loved us.”
My voice broke and I guess I did cry, if only for a second.