When I first learned of Dad J’s death it didn’t truly hit me until I was telling my boss I would be attending a funeral that week.
“Go home,” my boss said.
I told him that was okay. I would be okay.
“Take a walk around the building, then. Sometimes it helps to get some fresh air.”
It was cloudy and a little windy. I walked around the back parking lot and began crying when I got to the part of the parking lot where no one parks because it’s too far away.
I can’t really cry around other people. It’s strange and I hate myself for it, because I don’t want to seem insensitive. For whatever reason, I feel like I need to be strong for people. And I feel like if I cry it might make others cry, so I better not. That’s typically a male trait, but I have it.
I thought of Dad J. and how he used to always call me Liz even though my name is Lisa. And I thought of how he always liked his coffee from Dunkin Donuts “tall, blonde and sweet.” And when I would bring it to him at the house he would say, “Thank you, my girl.”
And then he’d look at me and start shouting that I wasn’t eating enough and what the hell was wrong with me. If he had soup on hand he’d go in the kitchen and heat up a big bowl of it because I was too skinny, God damn it. And I’d swear I was eating enough and he wouldn’t believe me and would start accusing Greg of not feeding me. I’ve always been small, but it’s hard to explain this to someone who loomed so large.
But then he’d grin and it’d all be okay.
And then his stories that would bring you to the edge of your seat but you can’t repeat because you wouldn’t do the stories justice. Maybe Rob and Steve can retell them because they’re good at that sort of thing, but you aren’t. The spoken word was never your thing. It was his and others. His Native American upbringing taught him to tell stories, not write them down. Because they’re better that way and they evolve and have lives of their own.
I walked back into the building and brewed a strong cup of coffee in the break room, like Dad J. used to make me. My boss asked me how I was doing and when I started to tell him, he told me to go home again.
Before leaving the parking lot I slipped “At Folsom Prison” into the CD player because I wanted to hear Mr. J’s voice and Johnny Cash’s voice is the only thing similar. You remember his hearty laugh and as you remember it Cash is singing “I Still Miss Someone.”
You go to the New Hampshire Liquor Outlet because it’s tax free and we need something to drink. You pick up some Cragganmore, the good whisky, because Greg likes it and life is too short to not drink what you like. Then you forget the outlet doesn’t sell beer so you go to the packie to get the biggest case of Yuengling they have for Rob and Amber and you and everyone.
You head over to Rob and Amber’s and when you walk inside the door you don’t need to knock on you give Rob the longest hug ever, and you feel so sorry and helpless. All the years of friendship are wrapped up in that hug. You don’t want to let go but you have to.
You drink too much as usual and all the kids are there and you share some laughs in Rob and Amber’s living room. Dan tells how he bought Dad his favorite chair because he kept breaking all the other chairs he sat in. Dan swore to him it would withstand up to 500 pounds, and he was right. It never broke.
Steve then tells a story about how Mr. J. always called him Chris and how they met about 50 times before Mr. J. remembered that he met him. And Greg was Chris too. And the reason for both of them being called Chris was, “Well you look like a Chris!” and you didn’t argue with him. And you’re laughing so hard you get beer up your nose which makes you laugh even harder. And then everyone’s laughing and it feels like He’s there.
Thursday evening arrives and so does everybody in town for the wake. The only thing redeemable about wakes and funerals is that it brings everybody together and you see people you haven’t seen for a long time.
But that’s it.
It was difficult to see Mr. J. in the large blue casket, lifeless. Because he was so full of life and was probably the most lively person I ever knew.
We listen to stories from neighbors about Mr. J. shooting skunks and coyotes in the neighborhood and picking up the dead bodies with his bare hands to dispose of them.
Amber and Rob are not doing well. I see them in the receiving line thanking everyone between tears. Someone says something to Rob that must be heartbreaking because Rob loses it and cries into the shoulder of the next person in line. You wonder what was said, but you can’t ask. Rob is such a joyful person and you hate seeing it. Amber looks beautiful and so sad in her black dress.
After the wake we go to Waxy O’Connors to get food and slightly shitfaced. We drink and drink and eat and drink and tell stories and laugh and make too much noise as usual. I give Greg P. crap for the Mike’s Hard Lemonade he left in my fridge again and for ordering a Lemon Drop Martini that he says is terrible. And you feel like He is there and He is alive as He listens to and contributes to our conversation.
Friday morning the flags are at half mast in Woburn center, which the VFW arranged. Lynch Cantillon puts black funeral flags on our cars for the procession.
And you say one last goodbye to him. There’s a dream catcher hanging in the casket and there is also an American flag folded into a triangle. You kiss your hand and touch it to the sleeve of his suit. And you think: I love you, Dad. Rest in peace, but I know you won’t, because you’ll be causing too much of a ruckus in Heaven.
Closing the casket is always the hardest part. I’ve been through enough deaths to know that. We leave before the immediate family has to do that and I know that’s the hardest part but there’s nothing I can do.
Rob delivers the eulogy at St. Barbara’s and his voice is breaking up. Amber rises from the front pew, walks up to the altar, stands behind Rob, and holds his hand. Rob’s voice sounds clearer after she does that. It is one of the most amazing and beautiful things you’ve ever seen.
Rob talks about what a wonderful Dad Mr. J. was and how he loved everyone the best way he could. He joked how we all thought cybernetic grizzly bears or the Hulk might take Mr. J. down after an epic battle. Or that he might go after stopping an alien invasion. We thought nothing ordinary could possibly stop him. But it did.
Rob then read a quote from Vice President Thomas Marshall who made the following comment on Theodore Roosevelt’s death:
“Death had to take him sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”
The priest made a beautiful speech as well, where he interwove Mr. J’s life experiences with God’s amazing plan for his life. And I thought of how that plan affected God’s plan for my life. I thought of how incomplete and sad I was before I met Greg.
I thought of how my sadness made me careless and how, in my ignorance, I did things that led to hurt. I hurt myself and I hurt others. I was still messed up when I first met Greg, but after we made a commitment to each other, the hurt faded away and I became a better person.
Greg inspired me to become a better person because he believed that I was a good person inside and that made me start to believe it myself. You cannot be a good person if you do not believe you’re a good person. And sometimes you need someone to believe for you before you can believe it yourself.
After the service I told the priest how beautiful his speech was. Grasping my hand and looking me straight in the eyes, he said, “That is our faith.”
And I remember how I rejected God before meeting Greg because I had been hurt in the past. But over the years the hurt has faded and has turned into love.
My favorite verses in the Bible are from 1 John 4:8-12:
“…God is love… No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.“
If Mr. J. didn’t exist, I would have never met Rob. If Rob didn’t exist, I would have never met Greg. And the crazy way it all happened had to involve God’s hand. Because so many things could have not happened or could have happened at the wrong time. But everything was woven together perfectly. Too perfectly.
This is why I believe in God. Because everyday I wake up with the love of my husband, my family, and my friends.
And I am eternally grateful.