I never thought it would be us sitting in that front row. Sure, it was always in the back of my mind. Certainly I could imagine losing a close family member. But I really never thought it would be us sitting in that front row at the funeral parlor, receiving condolences for our loss. At least not yet. Until it was us.
|The man loved Christmas.|
This is from 1992.
One of the things I remember through the haze of heartache, was how amazingly strong My Director was for us. The euphoria of our wedding less than a month before still lingered in the air and then unceremoniously evaporated. Our honeymoon period came to an abrupt halt. Yet, she carried me without hesitation. For months.
Another thing I remember is the parade of people who came to my dad's wake. It was non-stop and it was so comforting, heartwarming and, if I'm being honest, unexpected. I say unexpected because when I was a teenager, I thought my parents were lame. Nothing new there, right? Worse, I thought they had no life. No social life, at least. They had no friends. (Actually, they did. They just didn't see them much.) They worked, came home, we ate dinner, they watched television and went to bed. Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed high-school big shot that I was, I had a very busy social calendar.
By that time they didn't have much of a social life outside of family events. (But there were plenty of those in our big Italian family.) What I realize now that My Director and I are parents is that we were their life. Their children. It took my dad's death for me to begin to realize this. At his wake, when face after face from his past, many of them familiar and admittedly long-forgotten, came into view, shook my hand, hugged me, kissed my cheek, and offered their sympathies, I realized what a wonderful life he lived. How many lives he touched.
In saying my dad lived a "wonderful life," I am being ironic. For he hated the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" with a passion. He didn't think the story of a man who felt unfulfilled about his life to the point of suicide was appropriate for Christmas. When he put it that way, I saw his point. My Director has that in common with him and I love that. (I still like the movie anyway.) At the end of the movie everyone George Bailey has ever met, every life he has ever touched, helped him in his time of crisis. In his toast to his brother, Peter Bailey called him "the richest man in town."
That's how I felt at my dad's wake. I felt like he was the richest man in town. From the moment I learned of his death up until that point, most of my sadness was for what I perceived was his lack of accomplishment. Meaning, he died too soon. He wasn't finished. Sure, he had built a successful business over the span of two decades. But he closed it without much fanfare and retired a few years before. He had no hobbies and I felt sorry for what I thought was his lack of a social life. I cried for him, not me. Not us.
Then came the parade of people, and I was able to be happy for him. I was able to be satisfied with his life, even though it was cut way too short. I was able to see all of those he encountered on his journey - customers, co-workers, former employees and employers, old friends from Jersey City, church people, current and former neighbors. It seemed they all had a story of what a good guy he was. Really? Are we talking about the same guy? The same harda$$ who sat in his chair every night smoking cigarettes, eating Shop Rite krinkle cut potato chips and watching old movies? Yes. The same guy. I was being introduced to the man he was before he was my dad. The man I was just starting to get to know before he died, before any of us expected him to.
|My dad, mom, brother and sister. That's My Director|
and I standing behind them. April 2002.
(My oldest sister wasn't at this wedding.)
It's not a lack of ambition, after all. It doesn't mean you have no life. In fact, it means you have a wonderful life. Turns out I'm not all that different from my dad.