Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dad's Service


The past week is an utter blur. My sister left this morning, so I'm going to try to catch up on blogging.

As you may recall, I was exhausted the day before the service. I was exhausted the day of the service, too: also very tightly wound, and snappish, and generally feeling overwhelmed. I realize now -- I realized then, actually -- that for one of the chief mourners also to be the MC was a really bad idea. This is why we have clergy, so someone not caught up in the emotions of the moment can direct traffic and everybody else can concentrate on emoting. But I didn't figure that out in time to fix it.

I was very conscious of having to direct traffic, and as a result, I was very numb emotionally. I fussed endlessly about the physical arrangement of the space. I'd planned to have the dinner/birthday party on the short, shady end of the deck and the memorial service on the long sunny end, but it was ninety gazillion degrees out, and windy, and I kept worrying that Fran would keel over from heat prostration, so I moved everything to the short shady end. That worked fine.

I had a lot of fun with the place settings. I'd bought seashells and small wooden lighthouses at the dollar store, so each setting got several of those. My sister Liz had found shiny red party weights to hold down the red paper plates, and those worked beautifully too. We blew up a ton of balloons -- we'd also bought some red helium ones -- and we tied those all around the deck, which was also decorated with red crepe paper.

The actual service was . . . well, it did what it had to do, but it was chaotic. Because the weather was so hot and I didn't want the fiddle sitting outside for long, I decided to play Ashokan farewell at the beginning, rather than the end. I was tense and nervous and did a horrible job (I haven't practiced since, although I have to overcome my shame and get back on the horse). Dad's friend Kathy read a hilarious and very honest section from her journal about when she and Park met Dad. It was great writing (and she gave us copies), but it was long, and I was antsy. I was expecting my friend Marin, one of the few people in Reno who got to know Dad at all, to arrive from work -- I'd left the front door unlocked for her -- and I kept wondering where she was. Also, balloons kept exploding in the heat.

After Kathy read, Fran started talking, but I don't think she understood the structure of the circle sharing, and she kept wandering off. Park basically passed, as did Liz; my nephew Owen, to his own surprise, had a lot to say and struggled with words and tears, but Liz had to shush Fran, who interrupted with a random anecdote because she didn't realize what was happening. Gary shared a brief story, and then we all said the "prayer? what prayer?" I'd written:

We give thanks for Alan’s life, and for the love he shared with us.
We rejoice in our memories of his wit and laughter.
We forgive him for the times he hurt us.
We forgive ourselves for what we could not do for him.
We promise to remember him and to comfort one another.
We love him, and we know he loved us.

As we release these ashes, let us remember that he will be
in the wind that fills every sail.
He will be in the ocean off Oregon, and in all oceans,
for all oceans are connected.
He will be in the beauty of the clouds he adored,
and in the sunlight that delighted him.
He will be part of the Earth that sustains us,
and he will be in our hearts forever.

Fran really liked this -- I'd printed it extra large so she could read it --and kept asking me if I'd written it. That made me feel good.

Then I invited each person to scoop up a small amount of ashes (which I'd put in a pretty little wooden box, also from the dollar store) and scatter them in the backyard. That went okay, although it felt somewhat wooden. I was interested to watch the different scattering styles. Some people sprinkled them gently; others hurled them. I'd made sure to check the wind direction so nothing wound up in our faces.

I gave out presents: memorial pendants for Fran and Liz, one of Dad's books for Kathy, some of his clothing to Park and Owen.

The service over, it was time for dinner, but where was Marin? I went into the house, opened the front door to look for her, and found two cards (one for me and Liz, one for Fran) and a bottle of wine sitting on the porch. I'd forgotten to leave a note to tell her that the door was unlocked; I learned the next day that she'd knocked, gotten no answer, sat there for twenty minutes, looked through the gate to the deck, decided not to interrupt us, and left. But since I didn't learn that until the next day, I was worried. Where was she? Why hadn't she called through the gate to us? Was she okay?

Dinner was good, but there was too much of it: we didn't even open a lot of what we'd bought! Kathy and Park left early because Park had a bad accident about a year ago and tends to fade at the end of the day. The rest of us ate brownies and ice cream, although the ice cream was soft because our freezer was struggling in the heat.

After dessert, we cleaned up. Our backyard features an artistic assortment of objects Gary's found on the trail; one was an arrow from an archery set, so we had fun throwing that, javelin style, at the few remaining balloons to try to pop them. But when it was all over, I felt as deflated as one of the balloons.

I think other people got something out of the occasion. I hope so, anyway. But if I were doing it over again, I'd definitely invite a clergy friend to MC, not to mention leaving a note to tell Marin to come into the house!

Dad would have loved the place settings, though. And we kept joking that he was the one popping the exploding balloons.

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