Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On the Passing of my Father -- Part II

We held the funeral two days later. As my father wished, the service was a simple graveside ceremony. But first there was the viewing, a tradition that I have mixed feelings about. My father was all dressed up in one of his best jackets and tie, and, as usual for these viewings, he looked like he was sleeping in the casket. Mostly the people who came circulated around in the room outside the viewing room, although most came in at one time or another to see him. My mother sat outside the door most of the time, but she too came in for one last look. We all took lots of pictures of the people who came -- most of the family was there except my brother's two youngest children did not come up from California as they had school. Doug gave the family prayer there, and it was beautifully done.

We got to the cemetery a little earlier than scheduled, but because it was sort of cold for Mom to be out in the weather, we decided to go ahead about 15 minutes before the advertised starting time. The ceremony itself was quite short: Roy read a poem, Pat thanked all those who helped, and I dedicated the grave in the Mormon tradition. We were through before the advertised 1:00 pm starting time, and after the ceremony was over, many people showed up to attend the graveside service. Many friends of Mom and Dad came, some of whom I recognized -- even some who didn't recognize me. We felt sort of bad that the ceremony was already over, but there it was.

After the service the local Ward insisted on fixing a luncheon for us at the Chapel. The Bishop was also at the funeral but was careful to make us aware that he was not there in any official capacity. Since I hold the keys to do so, dedicating the grave was not an issue with him -- since he was not officiating, I was the senior Priesthood official for the funeral. The Relief Society ladies put on a very nice luncheon for us, and all the family members were there to visit together. It was very, very nice of the Ward to do that, and we all appreciated it.

Doug took Mom to and from the service, so we said goodbye at the end of the luncheon. I told Mom I would come by and see her the next day.

When I visited her the next day she was out in the "living room" of the home, sitting in her usual recliner chair. The door to Dad's room was closed. Mom said it was very strange to come by his door that morning, as she usually turns in there to be with him. Mom was in good spirits and doing well, as she had all through the funeral the day before.
Mom talked about the one thing that she always wanted but never got: for Dad to take her to the Temple to be sealed to her. Perhaps she was afraid that he didn't want to be sealed to her, or perhaps she was afraid that it wouldn't ever be done -- it wasn't clear. She started a count of the days to when she can go and have the work done for him. I told her that in God's wisdom all thing would be made right -- something that I believe with all my heart -- but she was fixated on this one thing.

I told Mom we would be leaving the next day to go home, and she was all right with that. She said again how glad she was that I was there. Later my sister wrote to tell me, "Today Sofie said something to me that was really very touching. She said that some nights she goes into Dad’s bedroom, closes the blinds and says, “Goodnight, Doc” and closes the door. She says, “It’s still Doc’s room.” (It was difficult to hear her say that and it continues to be difficult even to type it. Very sweet!) Ted still isn’t around much these days – we hardly see him. Dad’s death has been surprisingly hard on him."

We looked at the weather that night and decided to head south instead of east and take a southern route home. We left in the morning and drove south. Just south of Eugene it started to snow. The further south we went, the harder it snowed. There was enough snow -- slush, really -- on the road to obscure the lane marks, so traffic mostly stayed in the right lane. I finally decided to pick a large 18-wheel truck and just follow it. When it moved over to the left lane, so did I, and when it moved back to the right lane, I just stayed in its tracks. That worked pretty well, but at least once when we were in the left lane, trucks coming the other way threw huge waves of slush over the barrier. It hit our windshield like a ton of ice with a huge WHUMMP! Somewhat later I discovered a crack in the windshield that began at the bottom in the middle of the car, then turned and ran over to the driver's side a couple of inches from the bottom. I watched it grow a little longer each day. I'm pretty sure the wave of slush started it.

When we got to the California border the clouds disappeared and the sun came out -- just like all the advertisements! We spent the night in Redding, and in the morning it was snowing again. We didn't go far, though, before the sun came out again and stayed out all day. We stopped at a place in the Imperial Valley to buy nuts, and passed mile after mile after mile of almond orchards in all stages of growth. At Bakersfield we turned east and spent the night in Barstow.

The next morning we went to visit Calico, a partially restored mining ghost town a few miles outside of Barstow. We got there just as it opened and were informed that the shops wouldn't open for another hour. We didn't care about that -- we wanted to take pictures of the town without a lot of people in the shots. We spent about two hours happily hiking all over the town, taking digital pictures of everything that took our fancy. Digital photography is perfect for things like this because you can take almost unlimited numbers of pictures and know immediately what you got. The idea was to take pictures from which Carol can paint her watercolor pictures, and maybe I can do drawings. Whether that will actually happen has yet to be seen, but we have the pictures, anyway.

We drove to Flagstaff, AZ that evening. Flagstaff is 7,000 feet high and was covered in snow and ice, and it was snowing again when we got there. We looked in the hotel guest book to see where to go to eat, and found an intriguing advertisement for Black Bart's Steak House that promised live singing entertainment during dinner at no extra charge. We looked at each other and said, "Why not?" Black Bart's is located in the rear of a trailer park, and it is easy to miss the entrance -- which I did. The live entertainment turned out to be the waitresses and waiters, all of whom were students at Northern Arizona University. Some were better than others, but it was a lot of fun to listen to them. Steak house or not, I had a nice salad with chicken on it.

The next morning it was snowing again, but it quit as soon as we descended below about 5,000 feet. We visited three more "ghost towns" in Arizona and New Mexico, because they were located just off I-40 (also called "Historic Route 66" in many places) and easy to get to. Although they were nothing like Calico, some of them were very interesting and made fabulous pictures. Here's two taken in Foss, NM.

After getting snowed on in NM, and stopping to replace a turn signal light, we also got snowed on in Oklahoma, and Arkansas. We came across these states just behind a big winter storm that had moved north. Along the way, he heard on the radio that the other routes I had considered taking had massive snowfalls -- up to 14 inches with road closures in places on I-80 and in Reno NV, another possible route home, and the route we took the last time we went to Oregon in the middle of the winter.

Home again, we got the windshield replaced. The new one was so clear that I thought for a moment it wasn't there -- the older one was so pitted from stones, sand, rocks and cracks that it scattered a lot of light.

As is typical for me, I had put my emotions on hold while there were things to do with the funeral and while concentrating on traveling. I knew they would come sailing back one day to catch me by surprise when I least expected it. I thought because I had lived so far away from my parents and siblings for so long -- more than 45 years -- that things would go on pretty much as before. So I was a little surprised to find that they did not. In my head, where my father was there is now sort of a hole. It will fill in eventually, but it hasn't yet. When I think of him, I see him clearly as he pointed at my ring, and smiled and nodded to me -- exactly as he always did -- sharing our understanding of how I came by the ring, and what it stands for without the need for words. Then I remember how he focused completely on me and shook my hand so firmly when I bent over to say goodbye. I knew he wasn't able to speak to me, and I wondered as I left him that day if it truly was goodbye -- the last words I would ever speak to him. And, as it turned out, it was.

1 comment:

Maren said...

Wow, Dad. Another great piece of writing and nice closure as well. Thanks for the rest of the story. I love you.