This is a post about death and dying. "There's nothing to see here, folks. Move along, move along."
I didn't plan on looking at the body, but when my sister and mother did, I had to.
It wasn't him. He was done with that shell. The body that had betrayed him. He had left already, with his last breath — that had been hard to witness, had left me kind of numb. Exhausted. So seeing his body now, in the casket, was more abstract. My sister was crying. My mother silent. I was watching myself in that room.
The crematorium was a bizarre mix of French Rennaisance architecture and well-worn industrial utility. Ornate gothic arches, carved doors, steel platforms, and the cremation chamber. The low, faint rumble of the furnace behind the wall.
The attendants closed the casket, rolled it to the conveyor platform, engaged the electric lift up into alignment, and rolled my father's body in its wood-and-silk container through the double-double doors, into the furnace. The casket clunked down before disappearing inside.
We walked outside and watched the black and gray smoke, streaked by tears, drift up into the sun.
A year and a half ago, Dad was rushed to the hospital, unable to walk or move his left side. Subdural hematoma. It was mere luck that my sister had come to visit: There he was, lying on the floor of the livingroom.
"What are you doing down there, Dad?" my sister asked.
"So get up!"
We all thought this was perhaps an injury. It's what the doctors assumed. Maybe he bumped his head and didn't remember it? However, as we talked with the medical team more, we learned that, for the previous two years, Dad had been undergoing treatment for metastatic prostate cancer.
He had never told us. Never told anyone. And if the hematoma had not happened, I don't know when we would have learned of this.
He was embarrassed. Always a private person, he didn't want anyone to know.
The memorial service was just over a month ago. We didn't know if 4 or 40 people would show up.
100 people came. Some in their 80s, many in their 50s, quite a few in their 20s and 30s. As the small chapel filled up, the funeral home silently and efficiently provided extra folding chairs. There was no murmur of conversations. Everyone sat quietly in their own thoughts while the first two movements of Beethoven's Appasionata piano sonata played almost too low to hear.
There was no pastor or "celebrant." We didn't want a stranger to speak for Dad. For us. We wanted only people close to Dad to speak. First was a friend and colleague from the university, Linda, who revealed a side of Dad I knew of but never really knew. She shared about first meeting Dad, working with Dad, his regular lunches with his friends. She read from letters he had received from students over the years. "You are why I am who I am now," was the gist of all of them. He had changed their lives. Encouraged them when they were down. Made it easy for them to try again rather than give up. And invited some to try in the first place. The waitress who became a law student, working as a paralegal. The Iraq veteran who worked his way to being a university professor. It was amazing and awesome to hear all these voices of lives he touched and changed for the better.