The Truth Untold
Dad’s funeral was more of a church service. The preacher who conducted the service didn’t know my dad. He couldn’t speak to the life of the man in the casket. Instead he preached a sermon about the journey we are all on and how it ends up or should end up in heaven. He looked like a snake oil salesman, complete with leisure suit and slicked back hair. In a way he was selling snake oil. The droning on and on of how Jesus loves us, if we would only accept him as our Lord and Savior we would see our dearly departed one day. I am not sure what the after life holds, but if there is a heaven my dad was not there. Although my sister-in-law had informed me not to worry because as Dad lay on his death bed he accepted Jesus into his heart. I was skeptical because he was full of morphine, seemed coerced to me. But who was I to judge? Let the old man have some peace of mind in his last days.
I went to the funeral not because it was expected. I went to try to provide comfort to my children, who loved their grandfather. I sat at the end of the pew my body turned away from the people who sat with me. My head was resting in my hand as I leaned into the arm of the pew; appearing indifferent to what was going on, my left leg nervously swinging back and forth. People in the crowd knew I was the child who never came to visit. The insolent daughter who gave her parents endless amounts of grief and sorrow, the daughter who moved away, never visiting, never calling. I was always on trial with my siblings, guilty of missing Christmas, Thanksgiving and birthdays.
As I listened to the preacher man’s selling of salvation I had the overwhelming urge to get up, thank him and begin my own eulogy.
“I want to tell you one of my dad’s poems.” I would state as I looked over the crowd.
I once had a dog his name was Rover,
And when he died,
He died all over.
My dad’s life was not the life to put on display at a funeral. It would entail behaviors and characteristics mourners may not want to acknowledge. My dad was a man who drank too much and when drunk had a propensity for violence. He was a crappy dad and husband. There were stories that could be told that day, of my dad’s behavior, but there were people there who loved him.
I could tell of the compassion I felt for this man as he lay in pain, cancer eating his body alive. But mixed with that compassion was the desire to ask if smoking those cigarettes was worth it now. I had the urge to tell him I was a vegetarian. He hated my liberal leanings and I could imagine him fighting the drug induced stupor he was in — hell bent on chastising me for my communist’s ways. I wanted to make him feel bad.
Instead I took all that I felt and buried it. I helped him to the toilet, cleaned him up like I did my children when they were babies, spoon fed him soup, went on a late night run for grape popsicles only to be reprimanded because all the store had was strawberry and he hated strawberry. The lesson for the people in the pews could be one of compassion, life is too short to hold grudges or be petty or jealous and not live in the moment. I would be a hypocrite to preach that, because I still felt all those things. I carried that grudge. As I took care of my dad I was still angry at him for not dying first. He had no right to be living. My mother was a kind and gentle soul who decided till death do them part. But he loved his whiskey and women more than he loved her. I hated him for all the years of poverty, unhappiness and sorrow I lived through.
Even when I became an adult, with children of my own, my dad continued to abuse me, although in a more adult way. He took great joy in reminding me of my tumultuous teenage years. “Remember that time you ran off with that boyfriend of yours and your mom had to look for you?” Incidents were given out as packaged transgressions of my youth often offered up at family gatherings. I was ashamed of my younger days and still afraid of my father. I would not defend myself and he knew it.
After Mom died, Dad would call and leave me a message to come visit. I would not call back for days, sometimes weeks. I couldn’t forget the harm perpetrated by him when I was a child. I could not reconcile the obligation just because he happened to be my dad. I didn’t owe him anything. I stopped feeling guilty. He stopped calling.
Yet should a funeral not offer a balanced account of the life of the person we are gathered to mourn? This was a man who taught us to stand on our heads and walk on our hands. I remember when I was very young and Dad still worked we would clamor all over him when he came home to see if he had any leftovers from lunch. Sometimes, much to our delight, he would not eat his pink cupcakes Mom had packed. Dad would let us stop at the local store to buy candy before school and he took us to the lake every day in the summer.
My dad taught me to fish, ride horses and water ski. He told us funny stories and dirty jokes when mom was not listening. He let us watch our favorite TV show when mom made us watch shows about classical music.
I could have told his twelve grandchildren there that day that their grandfather loved them and I know they made him a better man. I could have offered a different perspective on his life. I could declare that he too had a life of injustice perpetrated on him. His father was an illiterate dirt farmer and an abusive alcoholic. He lived with poverty and violence worse than anything I had been through. Perhaps my dad would have been different had he not served in a war.
But I did not care to offer up reasons for his behavior. It was the truth I did not tell. Instead I sat in the pew and cried. I cried because I was that nine year old girl whose life fell apart when her father’s drinking became worse and the violence began. I cried because he did not have a meaningful life story to share with the family members and friends there that day. I cried because no one, especially his children, had anything remarkable or kind to say about him. I cried because he had led a selfish, sad, cold life and it was evident in the silence of his family and friends at his funeral.
I cried because he was finally gone and I was glad.