dark cemetary

Death takes us by surprise. Even when someone is terminally ill, the end is a shock.

In the darkest part of a winter night, a blizzard on the way, my phone rang. I knew. I could feel it. Death was calling.

I expected the call, yet it hit me like a bludgeon. My father was dead.  I hoped he’d gone to a better place, though I felt the odds were against it. There would be no reconciliation, no happy ending for father and daughter. Ridiculous as it was, as long as there had been life, a semblance of hope flickered. Edith, my father’s companion for the past 5 years, was on the phone. “Your father passed during the night,” she said. Her voice broke. “He went in his sleep,” she added.

“A mitzvah,” I said reflexively. To die quietly in your sleep is considered a gift from God. My father had been suffering from congestive heart failure.

“He was a good man,” Edith said, tearfully.

“Uh huh,” I muttered, my voice flat. 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. We bury our deceased with all due haste. And missing the funeral doesn’t mean you miss out on the festivities. We include a whole week of sitting Shiva – a Jewish wake. This offers family and friends ample opportunity to participate in ceremonial grieving. Interment is quick, but what follows is long enough to make up for it.

I hung up the phone. I’d have to find a flight to Florida in the morning. There was no logical reason for me to go. For the last five years, my father and I had not talked. An improvement, from my point of view. No matter. I had to go. Violence, sexual abuse, mental abuse was his legacy to me and my brother. Lucas was gone, so only I remained. I had to be there.To remember. Me and dad had history. This was our final chapter.

“Are you sure that you are up to doing this alone?” Gabe questioned. “That’s a lot of hauling through airports.”

“I know,” I said. “It’s just one day. One small bag, taxi to the funeral, taxi back, then 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.”

“Why?” Gabe was puzzled.

“I don’t really know why, but I have to do this on my own. Closure,” I said, and I laughed. Closure is such a cliché.

“Closure,” Gabe echoed. “Okay, closure it is,” but he smiled too. 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. I need to get moving. I’ll call you when I get there,” I promised. “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. Logan’s usually cleared pretty fast and I doubt this is the storm of the century.”

– – – – –

My father’s funeral was strange. I was the only family member attending.  Not  his family, not mine. No one else came.  Aside from Edith, I didn’t recognize a single face. “Alfred was a gentleman,” intoned the rabbi. “Always ready with a joke, gallant, preparing feasts for his friends even as his debilitating illness progressed. He was,” the rabbi assured us, “Loved by all. He charmed all those around him,” the rabbi continued, “He will be greatly missed.” After that, Edith spoke of his kindness. Generosity. Warmth.

Who was this guy?

No one asked me to speak. Fine. What could I say? Was this the place to explain he was a child molester, a violent sexual predator? It might have been interesting — perhaps a bit much. Let sleeping demons lie.  When the service was over, I ran. I’d born witness. Closure eluded me and I left wondering — whose body was in the casket?

Tidy conclusions elude us. Simple answers don’t apply. Life is complex, chaotic and sometimes weird. Time for me to go home and begin to live. Without my father.

Categories: Anecdote, Family, Fiction

Tags: , , , , , , ,

27 replies

  1. I relate very strongly with what you say.
    My father wasn’t a molester – thank God. But my relations with him were negative from the day I was born. In fact, my earliest memory in this life (I was 2 years old) was of him sawing a board and the end of the board fell and struck my big toe on my right foot – splitting the toe nail down the middle. It never healed – and remains split to this very day – a small remaining symbol of my relationship with him. Upon this event he never even tried to help me – but chastised me for being ‘in the way’. That’s the way it was. In my life, he never touched me, very rarely ever spoke to me, and never said he loved me. He didn’t. Years later – during therapy – I was shocked to discover how deeply and profoundly this negative relationship had impacted throughout my whole life. I hoped to heal this and I did come to understand why he was the way he was – because of his own upbringing. But I still find it very hard to forgive.
    I never went to his funeral.


    • Emotional abuse is just as devastating as physical abuse … and may be harder to recover from. My father was an all-pupose abuser. For years I made excuses for him, then one day I realized that whatever had happened to him as a kid, he had the capacity to change and had chosen not to. He was an evil guy and I cannot bring myself to mourn his passing. I share your pain. Parents are supposed to love us and help us, not make us feel worthless and unloved.


  2. Not much to be said…you put it all right out on the line. Well done, my friend. I would say may he rest in peace but I feel it more befitting to say you rest in peace! Sleep well tonight 🙂


  3. Well done…and heart wrenching at the same time.


    • Thank you. It’s almost the definition of ambivalence. I did my suffering early so I could get over it before I was too old to care. There are so many of us.


  4. Very well written. I can only imagine your conflicting emotions at the time.


    • Conflicting hardly covers it. Mainly what was stunning to me was how little emotion I felt. There was just a hole where feeling ought to be. I expected … something, but aside from a mild sense of regret that somehow, I never managed to pull a happy ending out of my hat … that it ended so … I don’t know. Empty.


  5. Beautifully written, Marilyn: it made my heart ache for you – for what you had been through, rather than your father’s passing. xxx


    • Thanks. It was a bad place to start, but I’ve moved on. Took a long time, but I got there. It was a weird, feeling nothing at all when he died. Even the anger was gone. I was really done.


      • Nothingness *is* the only real ‘closure’ sometimes. When there can be no reparation or rapprochement, no healing or change, the greatest gift one can hope for is simply that that part of life’s baggage will just disappear of its own volition. No more fury or fear, and no more effortful compartmentalization necessary. Sigh. Deep breath. Done.



  6. A beautifully dispassionate story,well-done, Marilyn.


  7. I think we bond with the air and soil and trees. We may live somewhere else, but that’s the place which will always “feel” like home 🙂



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