He was, I assume, ready for the end when it arrived.
Dad had been waiting a long time. He was tired of his wheelchair. He wanted to walk the streets of glory.
He like to have things tied up and had prearranged his cremation. By the time I got there to bury him he was incinerated and packaged leaving behind only a minor dishevelment of Bible courses, Glenn Miller albums and old clothes.
In his room I sat in his wheelchair: they’re very comfortable if you sit with the knowledge that you can get up again. There was plenty of Christian writings to read, but no comparative religions; nothing on Zen or Islam or Zoroaster. Dad had been in training for death for years, ever since the polio. With translations and concordances and histories he sought the true word, researched way to God. Studied his deity as others investigate cells using scholarship as his road to salvation. He put his money on Christ and never looked back.
He didn’t dare.
You’re supposed to feel something when your father dies, when you stand to as they dig the hold and inter the discarded shell, but I did not.
Our relationship with its stunning variations on bitterness and compassion had eventually ended with nothing. The roller coaster burned all my emotional fuel.
I had, just before he entered his final crisis and it fell upon me to take over his affairs, oversee his death, his burial, decided to at last and forever quit forgiving him. To despise him for the havoc he broadcast through the family, mostly the wreckage of my brother, but also crimes against my mother and myself.
For all the years of my life I’d been cutting him slack, giving him credit for the trauma he’d suffered and it came to me as I was trying to survive a catastrophic disease of my own and blaming myself totally for the trouble I’d been to everyone around me, that he didn’t deserve my forgiveness. That despite his crippling, he bore responsibility for all the misery he’d ladled out while in his inflated self-righteousness seeming to thoroughly enjoy himself.
That one of the myriad things that propelled me over the infamous edge was the effort of continually forgiving him and he’d gotten all the mercy he was getting out of me.
By then Dad was so far gone mentally that any decision I made meant absolutely nothing to him and I’d never in our years together seen any indication that my or anyone else’s decisions, thoughts, feelings held much water in his eyes. He’d never admitted to himself, others, or God that he’d damaged anything despite the four wounded wives and two barely functional sons he left limping in his wake. It was the school system, women’s lib, the drugs my mother received during labor, the generally sorry state of the world since 1946 and any number of other reasons that everything he touched went to hell. He was not involved.
There was no funeral in the traditional sense. Partly because that’s what he wanted and I still, despite it all, felt an obligation to do as he pleased. But I also knew I didn’t have it in me to fake my way through a “normal” funeral with the sympathies and grief. I did dress for the occasion with a jacket and tie and a small group; mother, my son, my brother and wife and I gathered at the cemetery.
A fellow in a plaid jacket and jeans brought what had once been a man in a little plastic box drove it from the funeral home in a Chevy panel truck.
He dug the hole there by grandma’s grave, dug it like he was putting in a shrub, a couple of measured feet deep, put Dad’s cremains, the burnt offering, in and covered it up. Then he shook hands all around and left.
My son stood by bound into an old suit of mine, looking good but uncomfortable this first time in a man’s formal costume. My brother, in his dreaming way, was looking at the cattle in the neighboring pasture that were looking at us. My wife was waiting to leave.
Mother felt a need to speak and did so telling Dad that he was free of his wheelchair at last and now he could fly. Then she looked at me and I turned away, back to the car.
In the end I had nothing to say.
From the book Dancing the Maze, Pretend Genius Press. Available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.