“…striding down Main Street with a determined look.”

It’s lovely to read or hear nice things about people you love. Not so great when they come as condolences, of course, but some of those notes and phone calls can be profoundly moving. And some really good ones, like the one I’ve excerpted as the title of this post, raise memories that can make you laugh and cry at the same time.

My dad passed away on Easter morning. I was in church, a relative rarity, when the phone in my breast pocket buzzed, and I got up to take the call outside, knowing what it was likely to be. I returned to pass the news to our pew, then H and I made the half-hour drive to Maplewood.

As spring came on this year, Dad’s body, so faithful for so long, began to give up the ghost. Visits became short wheelchair rides down the hall, where I’d find a seat and strike up one-sided conversations that involved the weather, H and B, and famous family stories that I got to tell him as if he hadn’t been there. His eyes still lit up when I arrived, and I could usually get a smile out of him, sometimes even a chuckle, but by mid-April, his systems were clearly shutting down, and it was time for me to speak to the medical staff about Hospice care. The two of us had one more moment of real connection, when I worked with him on one of the pathetic little exercises we’d been given: to see if he could touch his nose with his right hand. I think we both realized how ridiculous this was in so many ways, and when I cheered as his thumb, with  some gentle help, made contact, we both laughed. A few visits later, H and I planted what we understood were likely to be our last kisses on his shiny bald head. The next morning, he was gone.

One woman of my generation, daughter of great old friends of my parents, told me that Dad had been the most “sophisticated” man she ever knew. This made me laugh, because my father was none of the things you think of when you hear that word. He was not worldly, or urbane, or debonaire, or suave, or wealthy, or well-educated, or any of the other adjectives that usually factor into the description of a sophisticated man. Quite the opposite, in many cases. But I knew what she meant, and it was a set of attributes that many of the notes and conversations of condolence mentioned. One called him, “fun, funny, gracious, kind, and utterly charming….” Not a bad epitaph.

A few weeks later, we had a slightly eccentric gathering of friends and family, where I said a few words and we buried his remains in a quite lovely spot next to my mom’s, with everyone tossing in a bit of good Woodbury dirt, and a few of us hanging around to fill the little hole and tamp the turf back down. Then we adjourned to the house for catching up (much-loved but seldom-seen cousins and childhood friends) lots of stories and laughter, good food, and what I vaguely remember as reasonable amounts of drink. Dad loved a good party, and we did our best to see him off the right way.

Of course, he wasn’t perfect. He was mean to me about a baseball bat, had little respect for my intelligence, and sometimes failed to show up for important family events.

Boy, do I miss him.

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