Today I saw Dad’s face – his actual, physical face – for the last time. Dad wasn’t actually there. He’d left the day before, but his body got a little extra time to hang around.
I shaved before we left for the mortuary. A few years ago (or maybe ten) I had read a few things about how great old-school safety razors were and I wanted to try one. Dad had switched to disposables, so he gave me his. I don’t know why he stopped using it. It really is a more comfortable and cheaper way to shave. But it was a very Dad thing to give me something I wanted even if he had made a different choice.
It wasn’t a memorial; this was technically just the identification of the body. In the past there probably would have only been Mom and one of my siblings there, and an actual service would have happened later. But these are not normal times, and there’s no telling how long it will be before a memorial happens. My sister and one of my brothers live two states away; there was no way for them to be here.
The mortuary did its best to give us something for closure. They laid Dad’s body out in the chapel area and let our family say goodbye. They did a good job with his face, but as natural as it was he still looked like he had fallen asleep and a prankster beautician gave him a secret makeover.
I broke social distancing rules for the second time in two days. Both times it was to hug Mom. It was absolutely worth it.
Katherine took advantage of the moment to get in a photobomb. Dad would have liked that.
Dad was a funny guy. On the old version of this site I wrote about his accidental garden. He could find the dark cloud in any silver lining, but he also loved to laugh and joke. He could tell a two minute story in just under thirty minutes. He never met a chair he couldn’t sleep in. He loved a good loaf of bread. He would wear any t-shirt as long as he could reasonably fit into it, and the sillier it was the more likely he’d wear it. He was always organizing, and always making piles of random stuff. I missed the organization gene, but doubled down on the random piles to make up for it. His love for Mom, for all of us, was not a complicated thing. It was just there, and that was that.
I was getting ready to ride my bike to visit Mom when I saw the message from Katherine, who was on her way to Yosemite for a few secluded days in a friend’s cabin.
Call me ASAP.
I knew exactly what that meant before I called her.
I decided I’d still ride over; the hour or so would be a good time to get my head together. I cued up “Rhapsody In Blue,” one of the few bits of music I knew Dad liked, or at least that I thought I remembered that he liked, and started my ride. I could hear why Dad would like it. Like him, it’s switches between structure and meandering all the time. That Gershwin guy has potential.
A bit after the music ended I got a flat. Then my pump screwed up my spare tube and I laughed, because of course it did. But it worked out, because Katherine had canceled her trip and come home so we could go over together. So: thank you, flat tire.
I was uncomfortable at the memorial-that-wasn’t-a-memorial. Seeing Dad’s body helped make Dad’s death real, and I was happy to be there to support Mom, but a lot of it felt like an attempt to Create A Special Moment, and special moments are hard to force. Afterward at the house, when we were just talking about whatever was on our minds, I relaxed. The special moments were here, in the house where I grew up, in the house where Dad lived for most of his life, not in the mortuary we had never been inside.
So long, Dad. I love you. I don’t believe in an afterlife, but if I’m wrong I hope they’ve got lots of fresh bread and good mustard there for you.