This week we buried my father. He was 80 years old. Just two and half years earlier we had buried my mother.
This post is not a eulogy for my father. He was movingly remembered by several loved ones at the funeral. Instead, I'm going to write about how his passing has affected me, my two brothers, and our immediate families.
Losing my mother in 2008 was devastating. She was by all accounts one of the genuinely Good people in this world. She endured her disability with grace and good humor. My father was forged from an entirely different mold, but was also strong and had a good heart.
Losing my mother was distressing for all of us. But when Mom died, we lost “only” her. We still had one parent. We still had a living repository of our family history. We still had someone to share pictures and stories with as we, and our kids, accomplished anything noteworthy. We still had immediate-family representation from that generation. And not least of all, we still had all their stuff, including the family home of 41 years.
Losing my father marked the end not only of his life, but of an era, and I am finding this to be a burden over and above what I felt when my mother passed.
His death marks the end of our association with the house that we grew up in- the place where so many memories were created over the past 41 years. None of us is inclined to keep the house in the family (we don’t live near our home town), so it will go up for sale.
In the coming weeks we will go through the house and sort out all of the stuff. There's not much of commercial value there, but the sentimental value is beyond measure. The plastic cups that have rested on the kitchen counter since I was six years old should have been tossed 30 years ago, but they weren’t. The end table beside his recliner where he kept his ashtray and “clicker”, until finally quitting smoking 10 years ago, has no place in a modern home (not old enough to be an antique, but too old for continued service). But I don't want to be the one to throw it in the trash heap. We all made fun of our parents’ frugality, a trait left over from their Depression era childhoods, but getting rid of all that old stuff is going to be painful. I'm sure we'll all grab pieces of it to keep as mementos, but 95% of the items in the house will go to charity or to the dump.
The attachments that we make to the stuff in our lives are difficult to understand. After all, these are just inanimate objects. Nevertheless, they come to symbolize the human bonds that are forged in their presence.
My father's passing marks the inevitable extinction of an entire tier of our family. His mother and his two sisters had passed away before him, so now we have nobody left in our immediate family from that generation. Granted, there are still many older friends and cherished relatives who remain, so all connection with our family’s history is not lost. Nevertheless, this is a pain that we did not feel so much with our mother's passing, but that we feel acutely with our father's passing.
Yesterday I was reviewing the photos from my son’s high school graduation, which took place two days after Dad’s passing. I reflexively felt an urge to send these photos to him. Bragging about our accomplishments and just generally keeping him informed of the goings-on in our lives brought mutual delight to both Dad and us. I'm struggling with the idea that this will no longer be possible. Nobody will ever care about these things like Mom and Dad did.
But isn’t this all just part of the human condition? We’re hardly the first children to lose their parents. Since death is an absolute certainty in life, there are only two ways to avoid the pain of seeing your parents pass. One way is to die before them, but this is considered even more tragic for a family. The other way to avoid the pain is to never have loved them in the first place, but what sort of life would that be?
Grief cannot exist without love, but they are not equals. Love is stronger.
Since January of this year my son and I have been working to preserve (scan into my computer) Dad’s collection of 35mm slides taken between 1953 in 1977. This was a huge undertaking, as there were more than 1400 slides in the collection. Because my hands don't work well anymore, my son had to do all the scanning. I organized the digitized photos and did a little Photoshop repairing where I could, and we ended up with over 1200 quality images, some of which are shown here. We completed the project a few weeks ago and targeted a Father's Day presentation to Dad- June 19th.
It turned out that I had a conflict on the 19th, so I decided to give him an early Father's Day present from his three sons. On June 3rd Kim drove me to his house, only a week before his eventual passing on June 10th, and we presented him with the slides. He was touched. If I had waited until Father's Day, he would've never seen the slides – a compilation of photos mostly taken by him, which had collected dust for some 30 years. What a shame that would have been.
Okay, maybe I'll eulogize my dad just a little. The most common description that we heard of him these past few days was that he "had a hard outer shell but a soft heart." That's a nice way of saying that at times he could be a real SOB, but if you were willing to work through that aspect of his personality, the soft inner core, once revealed, was well worth it. I don't blame any of those people who were unable to truly appreciate my father, but they missed out on knowing an extraordinary man.