Dad died very early on Thursday, March 24. He left behind one brother, a wife of 35 years, 14 children ranging in age from 13 to 38, and 28 grandchildren.
I went back and forth in my choice of words just now: “left behind” or “is survived by”? The first sounds just a little as though he is to blame for leaving us. The second sounds as though he is dead and gone. In one sense he is, of course, but he has not ceased to exist. He has gone before us and lives on. Yes, he left us behind. We will follow in God’s good time.
I think most of us slept late on Thursday. Nearly all of us were at the hospital until 2 AM and had a long drive home after that. Perry and my 7 oldest daughters were en route to Georgia for Vision Forum’s Father and Daughter Retreat when all of this happened; they reached their destination and headed right back again, opting for Grandpa’s funeral over a weekend of family fun. By the time they arrived home, they would cover 2,000 miles in 3 days.
That day, work and plans began in earnest. I earnestly believe that there is something soothing and healing about making funeral preparations for those we love. It is our last chance to directly serve our loved ones, and a good way to keep our hands and minds busy and focused while grief is fresh.
The 4 sons contacted a friend with a woodshop and made arrangements to use his shop to build a casket for Dad on the following day. Their friend kindly contributed not only the use of his shop and tools but the materials and his own time as well.
Our family has a small private cemetery in a corner of Dad and Mom’s 10 acres. My brother and I have each buried an infant daughter here; one sister has buried a husband here. We buried our grandma here. Now we were to bury our father who bought the land. In a land of rock and caliche, digging a grave is no easy matter. To finish in one day requires the use of heavy equipment. The boys rented a backhoe to do the job, and the 4 of them spent the day digging, weedeating, and otherwise preparing the area.
Mom and my sisters and I provided food for the working men and assembled to plan the events of the upcoming days. At my request, we gathered at my house because my little ones were sick and I had no babysitters.
We decided to have a graveside service on Saturday primarily for family and a few close friends. This was just enough time for my sister from Tennessee to arrive with her husband and children, and Perry and the girls would be home by then as well. The service would be followed by a meal of all Dad’s favorite dishes, provided by all of us.
A bigger memorial service was planned for Wednesday at my brother’s house for a wider circle of friends and acquaintances.
On Friday, the boys spent the day building the casket. It was made of solid cedar, simple and tasteful with clean, graceful lines. They did a good job.
About midday, Mom brought a huge dusty box of old photos to my house. They had belonged to my grandmother, Dad’s mom. We spent some time looking through them, laughing at some and thinking quietly over others. We asked each other’s opinion when it came to telling Dad and his youngest brother apart. There were many from Dad’s childhood that we had never seen.
My job for the day was to choose a good assortment to scan into the computer. They were to be printed out for displays at the grave site, and we would also use them for a slideshow during the meal after the burial.
Mom soon left on other business but for me the next 24 hours were consumed with old photos and memories of Dad and his parents, Bopie and Grandma Arlene. Perry and the girls arrived home very late, and while Perry bought funeral food the next morning, the girls and I continued to scan photos, sort photos, talk about photos, and arranged a large display of photos under the clear plastic tablecloth. It was a work of love and a treasure trove of memories.
By Saturday afternoon, everything was ready. The boys had brought Dad’s body from the funeral home and the site was prepared. Flower arrangements had been donated by family friends. The day was a mixture of rain and sunshine, often at the same time. It struck me as peculiarly fitting for the task at hand, symbolic of the sorrow of death and the joy of life eternal.
The rest of the day went just as planned. Dad was buried amid tears and smiles, and together we celebrated his great journey, enjoying the things that he had enjoyed while he was with us.
Graveside hymns: Come Thou Fount; From All That Dwell; It Is Well With My Soul
Dinner Menu: Linquine; caesar salad; pizza with Canadian bacon, pineapple and anchovies; mashed potatoes; beans with bacon; bbq chicken; asparagus; all-beef hot dogs; lasagne
Dessert Menu: banana cream pie; strawberry pie; watermelon; almond joy candy bars
Music: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits