Death always takes us by surprise. Even when you know someone is terribly sick, when the end comes, it’s still a shock.
Thus it was that in the darkest part of a winter night, with the temperature hovering just above zero and heavy snow expected, the phone rang. Of course I knew. I could feel it. Death was in the air. Expected though the call was, it nonetheless hit me like a bludgeon. Forever. My father was dead. At 90, he had passed over. I hoped he’d gone to a better place, but felt the odds were against it. There would be no reconciliation, no happy ending.
Edith, my father’s lady friend of the last 5 years, was on the phone.
“You father passed away during the night,” she said. Her voice broke as she told me. “He went in his sleep,” she added.
“A mitzvah,” I said, reflexively. To die quietly in your sleep is generally considered a gift from God. My father had been suffering for almost a decade from ever-worsening congestive heart failure.
“He was a good man,” Edith said, tearfully.
“Uh huh,” I muttered. The good man she knew was not the man who raised me.
“When and where is the funeral?” I asked. Jews don’t embalm and don’t view remains. Not to put too fine point on it, we plant our deceased with all deliberate haste. You can miss, but you won’t miss everything because there’s a whole week of sitting Shiva – the Jewish version of the wake – to give family and friends plenty of time to participate in ceremonial grieving. Interment is quick. What follows is long enough to make up for it.
I hung up the phone and started planning. I’d have to find a flight to Florida first thing in the morning. Hopefully I could find a cheap one because I was, as ever, broke. Rationally, there wasn’t any reason for me to go. For the last few years, my father and I had entirely ceased talking. It was over between us.
Yet I had to go. Violence and abuse was his legacy to me and my brother. Luke was gone. Only I remained. I had to be there. To remember. After performing this final ritual to the man who gave me his DNA, I could close the door forever. His funeral would be a cleansing for me.
I decided to go alone. Me and dad, we had history and this was our final chapter.
“Are you sure that you are up to doing this alone?” my husband asked. “That’s a lot of hauling through airports.”
“I know,” I said. “But I’m just going for a day. One small bag, taxi to the funeral, taxi back, and I’m home. I’ll be tired, but I’ll survive.”
“I could come. I think I should be with you.”
“No,” I said. “I want to do this by myself.”
“But why?” He was puzzled.
“I don’t really know why, but I have to do this on my own. Closure,” I said, and I laughed. Closure has become a cliché.
“Closure,” he echoed. “Okay, closure it is,” He smiled. A private joke.
“The only thing that could really mess up my plans is if I can’t get out of Logan before the storm hits. So I need to get moving. I’ll call you when I get there,” I promised. “And I’ll take you up on getting me to the airport and picking me up. If the weather socks me in, I’ll find a motel and stay over until I can get home, but they usually get Logan up and running pretty fast and I don’t think we’re getting that big a storm. Or at least that’s not what the weather guys are saying. At the moment.”
The following morning dawned grey and air smelled of snow. I packed my little bag, adding clean underwear, a night-gown, my medications, and a change of clothing in case I had to stay overnight. The husband went off to gas up the car and get some cash for me. While I waited I went out to the deck to watch the birds peck at the bread and seed we leave for them.
I’d heard on the news the groundhog hadn’t seen his shadow this year, so it should have been an early spring. I guess the birds heard the same news because they were building nests and trying to raise babies in the frozen woods. Every birdie parent in that woods was doing its best to take care of the nestlings. I envied the birds.
My father’s funeral was strange. I was the only blood relative there. I didn’t recognize anyone but Edith.
“Alfred was a true gentleman,” intoned the rabbi. “Always ready with a joke, always gallant, preparing feasts for his friends even as his own debilitating illness progressed. He was,” the rabbi assured us, “Loved by all.”
“He charmed all those around him,” the rabbi continued, “And he will be greatly missed.”
Edith came to the podium and spoke of his kindness to his neighbors, his generosity, his warmth.
Who was this guy? It wasn’t anyone I recognized. The charming teller of jokes, the generous, warm-hearted neighbor … this was not the Alf I knew. Did anyone other than me notice the lack of family attending? My mother’s family cordially loathed him. My brother had already passed on and his family – my cousins and their children – would as soon have had root canal than be anywhere near my father, living or dead.
No one asked me to speak, which was fine with me. What could I have said? Was this the forum to mention that the man was a predator? Let sleeping demons lie.
After the service ended, I ran. I’d gone as far as I could. I’d come. I’d witnessed. The closure I’d sought eluded me and I departed with more questions than when I’d arrived. How could this charming guy these strangers appeared to care about be the same brutal predator who turned my brother and my childhoods into Hell? Who was that guy?
There would be no final credits to this movie. I ran back, back to the rest of my life.
- Weekly Writing Challenge: Backward (dailypost.wordpress.com)
- Death Be not Proud* (menomama3.wordpress.com)
- Weekly writing challenge: Backwards, The last conversation (lifeofafallenangel.wordpress.com)