When your father dies, you will be at a loss for words.
If it’s a surprise, you will burst into tears. You will cover your face with your hands and cry like you were six-years old, like the time you got lost on the way home from school and all the houses looked different and you couldn’t find your way. That’s how you’ll cry.
If you knew it was coming, that your dad was going to die because he was so ill, you will lay your head down on your folded arms and weep. You will be tired and part of you will be grateful because nothing is worse than seeing the man who laughed and lifted you up and twirled you around confined to a hospital bed, silent and hurting.
You will wonder who you are now that your father is dead. If your mother is also dead, it will strike you that you are now an orphan. You will realize that you will need to step up to occupy the space made vacant by your father’s death. This will mean, essentially, that you are next.
If you are your father’s oldest or most competent child, you will be in charge of his funeral. You will puzzle over the choice of his casket and wonder what he would like, knowing that he was no longer in a position to like or dislike anything. Would he want a modest casket or one more distinguished? If your father was a minimalist, not wanting to have attention drawn to himself and having lived a quiet life, he wouldn’t want a lot of fuss. You think about this hard because you want a lot of fuss. People should know the full dimensions of the loss of your father’s life. That’s what you think.
At the funeral, you will wonder if you should say something or if you should just sit in the front row of the grievers and keep your hands folded in your lap. You will wonder if it is wise to have the young minister who never met your father talk about him using anecdotes you told him the night before. Would it be better if you eulogized your own father? Is that done? The funeral director instructs you to do what you feel your father would like. You don’t know what that is. He never said.
Later, you will see that the people who have come to your father’s funeral are chatting and socializing. You’ll wonder why they don’t feel lost and vacant. You’ll hug each of them and thank them for coming and then you will wonder what else you should have done to give your father a proper farewell. You will feel like what you have done so far hasn’t been substantial enough, that your father deserved more but you don’t know more of what.
At the end of the day, you will go home. Your family will be there so you won’t be alone. Your husband will love you and your kids will scatter around as they do with talk and things that are happening the next day, things that require your presence. You can’t float around feeling sorry for yourself. Just because you are orphaned.
So you wrap up your father in your mind and you put him in a picture. You keep the picture on the wall. When you are happy or not, you look at the picture and try to remember being a little girl walking on the beach with your father while he was smoking a cigarette a very long time ago.
And you will.
Originally posted September 3, 2013, recalling my father’s death several years ago.