zingerella: Capital letter "Z" decorated with twining blue and purple vegetation (Default)
([personal profile] zingerella Jun. 3rd, 2009 09:33 am)
There's not much else can be said. We celebrated my dad's life yesterday, and cried a lot about his death. I'm still crying, of course.

I am overwhelmingly grateful for my family, my Tribe, and all of the friends who have surrounded me with their love and concern, and held me up this week. This is all very, very hard, but it would be immeasurably harder without you.

My stepmother would like a copy of the eulogy I delivered. Unfortunately, the written version doesn't actually correspond very closely to what I said. I'll have to reconstruct from what I can remember.

Eulogy comes from the ancient Greek for "good" "word," or possibly "good story." I'm more grateful than I can say to everyone who has gathered here to share good words and good stories about my father. It's just ... it means a lot.

It's impossible, in a brief time, to say all the good words that can be said, or to tell all of the stories, so I want to share with you three words, and some of the stories that go with them.

The first word is uninhibited. I think you'll hear stories of my dad's lack of inhibition a lot. My dad lived life to the fullest, and didn't see many reasons for inhibition. He loved to dance. He was my first dance partner. We used to Jitterbug in the basement. He could be counted on for a tango at the father-daughter dinner dance, and he could rock a gold lamé suit like nobody I have ever known. Twenty years after he wore that suit at the fund-raiser he and my mom organized for my choir, alumni were still talking about it at alumni gatherings—"Hey, remember that guy in the gold suit?" That was my dad.

The next word is generous. My dad showed great largess and generosity to those he loved or liked. Before I was born, my dad was a Big Brother, spending time with boys who needed an older male friend. My dad loved to give presents, to help people, to make people feel special. He always brought presents for me back from his travels—a book, a piece of jewellry, a keyring that he'd made in arts and crafts. He always had room for me and for my friends and boyfriends at the table—no matter how weird my boyfriends were. If I needed anything—popsicles for a sore throat, or a computer for my work—he would make sure I had more than I needed. Last time I was sick, I wanted popsicles, and he brought me four boxes, all different kinds. He loved to give.

The final word is one I'm pretty sure you won't hear from anyone else today, but I think it really sums up my dad: epicurean. My dad loved the good things in life, and he liked to share them. He loved to cook, and made an amazing rice pudding full of vanilla and cream and cinnamon and I don't know what all else, but it was awesome. He once brought me an entire batch because I had fallen off my bike and banged my face and couldn't eat anything solid. He loved his wine, his golf, his friends. He loved to call my office, usually at 9:30 in the morning, and take me out for lunch or dinner.

My dad considered himself the spiritual heir of Julius Caesar, but I think, really, he shared more in common with Horace, the Roman poet. Horace, the epicurean, who wrote an Ode to a Wine Jar, and whose odes told who of wine, and song, and conversation with friends. Horace was happy to live his days in his garden, talking and drinking and arguing with my friend. He wrote of himself, but he could have been writing of my father:

"Think to yourself that every day is your last; the hour to which you do not look forward will come as a welcome surprise. As for me, when you want a good laugh, you will find me, in a fine state, well-fed and sleek."

That was my dad: always good for a laugh, living as he wanted to in a fine state, well-fed and sleek to the end.

Writing a eulogy for my dad is possibly the most difficult thing I have ever done. At the very least, it's the hardest writing job I ever hope to have.

How do you say only good words about someone with whom you had a troubled relationship? My father and I were slowly edging our way to a positive adult relationship, but we weren't there yet. I'd have liked a few more years to get it right.

My dad was the person who taught me, first hand, that all the goodwill in the world may not be quite enough to get love through the wall of crap that life can leave around a person's heart. I know he loved me and tried his best, but his best was poisoned by his alcoholism and by the dysfunction of his own upbringing. He never got a shovel or a wheelbarrow, and I think, to him, a lot of love smelled suspiciously like crap. He kept trying, though. He kept throwing love at that wall of crap in his heart, and some of it made it through.

He wanted a happy family and worked hard to provide us with a home and the material comforts he never had, growing up. He never quite understood why we couldn't accept those—why my mom and I were hurt and angry when he didn't come home in the evenings; why we couldn't accept his drinking; why we wanted more from him. After my mom left, he tried really hard to bond my brother and me and my step-mom and her kids into one family, and I don't think he ever understood why my brother and I resisted those attempts. We knew that love and shared experience don't arise out of some sort of parental fiat. He gave presents instead of consistency, because he knew how to give presents.

My dad loved people hard, and pretty unconditionally, but love and respect weren't quite the same thing, in his mind. He'd argue the devil black, but never concede a point, even when you knew you were right.

I always thought he'd be a better grandfather than father: grandparents don't have to be consistent. They can be the fun ones: they can give presents, and play games, and keep kids up past bedtime, and go home and take their grownup problems with them.

My dad was great in emergencies, when his role was clear and he knew what he had to do. When I was sick or injured, he got me anything I wanted or needed, took me to appointments, made sure I could afford any treatments I needed. It was the consistent, day-to-day stuff of being a parent that confounded him: coming home for supper; picking me up on time after choir; staying sober; not spending my tuition money so that it wasn't there when I needed it for university. He seemed to think that as long as he provided for his family, came through in emergencies, and never hit anyone, that was his job done. And he did pretty well at all of those.

He made me angry. A lot. And I had a really hard time talking with him about the things that made me angry, because he figured as long as nobody got hurt, and he didn't get caught, he hadn't done anything wrong.

So I have all that, running through my head: the Jitterbugging in the basement; the popsicles; the dinners; the random acts of kindness and generosity; and the pig-headed self-destructiveness. Incredible fondness and an utter lack of respect. And I was sorting through that, and learning to love what he was and forgive him his faults, just as he was learning to accept that I was his imperfectly grateful, slightly weird daughter, when his ticker burst. We'll never complete that process, and for that, I'm truly sorry.

It's been a dreadful, nightmarish blur, the past few days. A few things stand out. I continue to think that funeral homes are the weirdest places on Earth, with their tasteful furniture arranged around the outside of big empty rooms. Ours had a Tasteful Bookshelf, stocked with the Catholic Book of Worship, a copy of the Bible, one of Loyal She Remains, and a collection of demure-looking cloth-bound murder mysteries, tastefully arranged.

At the reception at my dad's Club, yesterday, some old guy came up to me, and to my brother separately, and informed each of us that he had known my dad longer than we had—40 years or more—and that he would therefore miss my dad more than we did. He didn't actually tell us who he was. Speculation runs rampant.

I remain convinced that open-casket visitations are just a Bad Idea. The body never looks like the person did, living, for the very good reason that the person is dead. So you have to look at the body and try to reconcile this construction with the memories of the living person. The cognitive dissonance does not help with the grieving process.

It's always macabre when you hear a knocking on the walls of your visitation suite.

I have more thoughts on blogging, community, and death, and I'll get those down later. For now, I'm going back to work tomorrow, and I'll continue with my slog through this liminal phase in which I (and my family) get to readjust our understanding of the world. The shape of my emotional landscape has changed, and I get to figure out how to readjust the furniture.
toft: graphic design for the moon europa (Default)

From: [personal profile] toft

*hugs*. Everyone said you were doing so well, and I've been thinking of you lots. That is a lovely eulogy. Your relationship with your dad reminds me rather of mine, and I can appreciate a little how difficult it must have been to sort out the good stuff, and set aside the anger. Bravo to you.