Saturday, September 20
This morning is my father's funeral.
The whole house gets up early to get ready. Kaileigh, Josh, Alex and Filipa will go in one car, Steven and I are getting picked up by Ayla and Chauncey. We need to be at the funeral home by eight fifteen, so we leave at seven thirty. Of course we have left too early once again, and arrive almost a half an hour early.
At the funeral home we wait, not really sure what we are supposed to do. Once my sisters arrive, we all go inside. Everything looks the same as when we arrived last night, neat and orderly. We take the seats along the wall and wait.
The priest who is to conduct the ceremony comes in, and we meet him for the first time. The Reverend Galligan will be doing a short ceremony at the funeral home, and then a Mass of Christian Burial at St Joseph's Church shortly after. It was our hope that my father's Mass would be at his childhood parish, but the priest there said he couldn't do the ceremony since he hadn't seen my father there in recent memory. This was upsetting and seemed rather cruel.
Reverend Galligan spoke to us briefly, and wanted to know what my father's hobbies or interests were. Not one of us answered this question for the man. I know there were things that ran through my head, Nascar, watching auto rescue shows, collecting tools, reading the newspaper cover to cover each day, spending time with his family, but I never mentioned one thing. This poor man had to deliver a short celebration of my father's life, not knowing much about him. When he got up to speak though, he did a beautiful job. He spoke about how we start from seeds, and grow like the flowers that are around my father's casket. How we grow, then die and then go to Christ. When he talks about the crucifix over the casket, I need to look up. I am not sure there is one there. There it is, towering above the casket, just as it should be.
After prayers are said, it is such a long wait before anything happens. Everyone sits quietly, while the video collage and its new age non offensive sound track drones on and on. I wish I could get up and say something about my dad, but I can't. I wish some other brave soul would, but it doesn't happen, We sit and wait.
Finally they call the pall bearers to form an honor guard.
Then we wait, as each occupant in every car in the procession is called. Jill, Sara, Steven and I go last, we ride in the limo. This is not how we were thinking we wanted to go. Ayla and Chauncey should have come in the limo too, it would have been easier on Chauncey's healing leg. It is too late to change things though, the cars are already lined up. There never seemed to be an appropriate time to discuss this.
We drive to St. Joseph's Church, just a short way down Mendon Road. We wait until the other family members are all parked and in the church. Then we follow my father in, Jill, Sara, Steven and me.
There is a bagpiper standing in front of the door to the church playing Amazing Grace. My father would have liked this.
The pastor gives us quiet direction about what is about to happen next. He tells us our dad has been blessed with holy water once in his life, during his baptism, and now when he will go to heaven. There is water sprinkled on the casket by the priest, and then a covering is carefully unfolded over it by Jill, Sara, Steven and myself.
It feels strange to me to be taking place in this very sacred and religious ceremony.
We follow my father down the aisle, Steven and I together, then Jill and Sara. There is a pew for us in the front of the church. My kids are all in one pew in the middle of the church. They seem so far away.
The priest does a wonderful job, considering he never met my father. He calls his ceremony a celebration of life, and talks about how my dad was a family man, well loved by his community and his friends. There are songs and prayers, none of which I know. There is a communion ceremony, which seems like everyone takes part in, except the front row of family.
When this is all over, we follow the casket back out of the church, stopping to be blessed once more and to have the holy blanket removed.
At this point we ask Ayla if she wants to drive to the cemetery in the limo with us. She does, and Steve ends up driving with Chauncey in her car. The ride to the Veteran's Cemetery is in Exeter is long, forty five minutes of a funeral procession. We cross two major intersections, merging onto route 295, and then route 95, finally crossing four lanes of traffic to get onto route 4. We are amazed at how well everyone manages to keep together.
We arrive at the cemetery and are instructed to stay in the limo until the casket is removed from the hurst. The pall bearers carry the casket into the chapel with no help from wheels. There is a flag draped over the casket, it looks a little crooked. My dad would not be happy.
The chapel is small and sparse. There is a small lectern in the corner and a base to rest the casket on. There are floor to ceiling windows on either side of the room with grey flagstone walls behind the casket and the wall opposite. The funeral director leads the family in, and shows us to a small row of pews. All of the other guests stand behind or beside us. The chapel is very full. The flag on my father's coffin is now straightened.
The voice of the military chaplain booms from behind the lectern. He looks like Friar Tuck in his vestments.
A male and female soldier stand behind the casket as the prayers are said. Once the prayers are done, the soldiers stand at opposite ends of the casket and salute. My brother Howard is beside me. He salutes too.
The flag is taken off the coffin and expertly folded by the two soldiers with mechanical precision. Fold, crease, fold crease, until a neat triangle of stars in a blue field is left at the end. The flag is handed to my Uncle Dana, my dad's brother and best friend.
We are told there will be a military salute, and to prepare ourselves. I am not sure what this means until I hear the beginning of taps played outside the large window to my right. It starts and fades like an unfinished tune. Then a shot is fired. It is startling. A friend cries out in surprise, but I don't hear her, I only know because she apologizes later.
I was expecting the rifle shots, but still surprised as they rang out. There is a shot, the clanging of the spent cartridge falling on the slate below, the clicking of the rifle being reloaded and all repeated two more times with uniform precision. The sound fades, the ceremony is over.
This is our last goodbye to what remains of my father.
There are windows on either side of the slate wall behind the casket, and out of one I can see the arm of some kind of heavy machinery. It doesn't occur to me until I see a truck zip past behind the crowd of mourners gathered outside the chapel that this is the machine that loads the casket into the cement casing in which my father's remains will be entombed.
People mill about outside, wiping away tears, hugging, commenting on the beauty of the day. Small talk to help ease the pain, the emptiness, the loss.
The driver stands by the limo door, looking at us in a pleading way. He opens and closes the door slightly as a signal that he is ready to go. We are not, so we take our time until our guests start to leave. Everyone has been invited to the Filibuster Club in Cumberland for refreshment. This is a place where my dad was so well known and loved.
Before we climb into the limo, I say goodbye to Steven. He is going to New York City to take part in the People's Climate March. He was going to cancel his plans to march, but I wanted him to go. He needed to be there for his organization, the Humanists of Rhode Island, as well as representing for our family.