Friday, December 26, 2014

This is what happens when you die: a tearstained and irreverent memorial to my dad

As Miss Argentina so eloquently put it, "This is what happens when you die. That is what happens when he dies. That is what happens when they die. It's all very personal."

It is, indeed, personal.  As is the mourning.  Some people cry, some people laugh.  My family, in the face of my father's recent passing, did a lot of both.  We made inappropriate jokes.  We discussed putting his ashes in a boot.  We cried, held each other, and considered propping him up to give out Halloween candy.

My dad was a smartass; he always had a quip on the situation at hand.  He always had us laughing, or at least rolling our eyes and chuckling.  No subject was taboo, no joke too risque.  His sense of humor never left him, no matter how sick he was.

My dad had been on dialysis for nearly four years.  He had survived several heart surgeries, was diabetic, had lost part of a foot, and used a wheelchair and a walker.  He'd been in and out of hospitals, and each time we prepared ourselves, thinking this would be it, he wouldn't be coming home.  And each time he surprised us, assuring us he was "just too mean to die".

"Too ornery," we all said, laughing as he cracked jokes about hospital food and gowns that were open in the back.

As a result of his resilience, his death took us all by surprise.

On the morning of my dad's passing, all three of us kids were working.  I was closest, so when I got the call from mom, I was the first to arrive.  I was shocked to see a police car in the driveway, lights flashing - but probably not as shocked as the poor officer was when I barreled through the door, nearly knocking her down, and flew into my mom's arms.

The officer was polite, and backed out of the room to give us privacy.  It was only after hugging my mother fiercely for a few minutes, leaving copious amounts of snot on her shoulder, that I dad was still in the house.  Right there.  On.  the.  bed.

The squad (emergency medical services) had come and gone.  And my dad was still there.

The officer came back into the room to finish paperwork, and shortly afterward, my sister-in-law arrived.  Cue a rewind:  trample officer, get snot on mom's shoulder, look shocked at realizing that dad is still there.

The whole situation is not something one thinks of.  For most of us, our experience with death is a sort of after-the-fact situation.  We attend funerals, express our condolences, and we go on with our lives. We never think about how the body got to the funeral home or who transported it.  We don't know about the coroner or police or the rest.

The officer had, once again, stepped out of the room to allow the family privacy.  This time, she returned with a second officer, who explained that, as dad had died at home, they needed to take a picture for documentation.

The officers were very gentle in their explanation, and sensitive to the family's feelings.  They asked us to step out of the frame and took a few quick photos.  Then one of the officers mentioned that he'd heard us discussing cremation, so he offered the information that one funeral home in town does the cremation for them all, and he'd be happy to contact them for us.

The officer also informed us that, due to dad's health and medical history, the coroner had "signed off" on the death and would not be at the scene.

"Wait. What? Coroner?" I thought, but then I realized, of course the coroner would be called in the case of any death, especially those that occurred at home unexpectedly.

Wow. I never really thought about all this.

The officer also informed us that the funeral home would be responsible for removing my father.  Mom asked if they could wait until my brothers made the trek from work, and the officer assured her that it would take some time for the hearse to arrive.

The officers, it turned out, were required to stay on scene until the funeral home representatives arrived.  What, I wonder, did they think would happen if they left?  Would we auction off spare parts to the highest bidder?  Perhaps a macabre puppet show?

The hearse arrived, of course before my brothers.  Two tiny girls came in.  It didn't occur to me at the time that these 100 lb gals were expected to lift my dad.  Dad was not a small guy.

Mom asked them to come back once my brothers had had a chance to say goodbye.  They were gracious and agreed to come back, wrote down our names and my dad's name, and gave us a list of things to bring to the funeral home.

My brothers arrived separately, along with another sister-in-law, and each new arrival set us all off again, crying, snot, and the works.

While waiting for each new arrival, those of us in attendance would reminisce about dad's sense of humor, and yes, we really did talk about how he had recently joked that, should be die, he'd like to be propped up to hand out Halloween candy.  As he passed away just before Halloween, we talked about it (No, we weren't serious, so don't get your panties in a wad).

At long last, we were ready for the funeral home to take dad away.  My brother asked if he should call for pick up.  I caught myself snickering, thinking it sounded like he was calling for pizza, and I obviously wasn't alone when he continued, in his best Beavis and Butthead style, "Pickup or delivery?"

See how we are?

My brother made the call and gave his name.  I had the most ridiculous moment of panic in realizing that, while he was on the phone, I'd forgotten to let the funeral home know my brother had the same name as my dad.  What if they thought we were pranking them?  Suddenly I was laughing, picturing my dad doing his Monty Python impressions.

At last the funeral home reps returned, the same two girls.  They assured us they could handle it, but I'm pretty sure my brothers helped as the rest of us took my mom outside.

They brought dad out under a quilt, which was an unexpected, though nice, touch.  Too much television had me picturing a body bag.  The gals had left a rose where dad had been, also a nice touch but a tearful one.

We went to the funeral home the following day (They don't open the place just because you pass away on a Sunday. Go figure.) to make arrangements and say goodbye.  There was to be no public viewing and no services, just as dad had requested.

After discussion of the shocking price list (not that this funeral home was any more expensive than the next, mind you), dad's arrangements were made.

Among the items listed to bring to the funeral home were a photo for the obituary.  No one really felt up to skimming their phones and computers for one, so we chose one that was framed on the wall at home.  I suddenly realized why some people have some not-so-great obituary photos, cropped from family photos or blurry action shots.  I even saw one once of a guy holding a string of fish, but now that I think about it, if that's how he lived, and how his family remembers him, then good for them for staying true to his character.

I have announced that, morbid as it sounds, Eol and I will take photos of each other every year, and pick the one we want with the obit, should we perish in that calendar year.

The list, though, is something everyone should know about. Now. While you are not under the stress, and copious amounts of mucous and used tissues that follow the loss of a loved one. Get this stuff together, in one spot, and save some stress later.  This is what the funeral home asked for, though I find some things a bit superfluous:

  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Social Security Number
  • Mother's maiden name
  • Father's name
  • Occupation
  • Information for obituary (nothing wrong with writing it up now. You can be Spider Man if you want.)
  • Picture for obituary.
  • Life insurance information.
  • Veteran discharge papers (DD214)
  • Clothing for the deceased, including underclothing and shoes. (Shoes?! I forbid anyone to bury me in shoes! WTF?  Where am I going to walk that I would need shoes??  Is this in case I am a zombie?  In case I get to boogie with MJ....?)


  • Glasses, if worn regularly (because I may need to read something, and of course I always wear them in my sleep...sheesh)
  • Dentures (because how can you eat delicious brains without them!)
  • Additional 30 photos for video tribute (optional)
Some of this is optional, but the funeral home will need the place/date of birth, parents' names, etc for the death certificate.  Your life insurance info they need in order to bill directly.  If you don't have enough life insurance, it could be an issue.  

Speaking of cost, a cremation runs about $2500, at least in my neck of the woods, without the visitation and all that other jazz. 

Most people plan to wear a suit.  My dad wore a Superman shirt, because he was our hero.  Suits were not his thing.

Because he was cremated, we opted for the "alternative container".  The salesperson avoided, at all cost, the use of the word "cardboard".  Dude, you put my dad in a giant shoe box.  Sure, it's got some sort of wood-grain contact paper on it, but it's still a shoe box.  We can say cardboard.  It's ok.  He would've appreciated the joke.  

Mom picked out the urn, and yes, we really did joke about the old boot.  The funeral home rep said that one person brought in a polished Harley Davidson motorcycle fuel tank for their loved one's remains.  I thought that was pretty cool, and dad would have really loved that, as he always wanted a Harley.  Wish we'd thought of that.

We had a small family viewing, which was hard because we had to say goodbye all over again.  The funeral home supplied teddy bears for each grandchild (even the grown ones) and great-grandchild, plus one bear to be placed with dad by the kids.  It was a sweet gesture.

Christmas was tough without him.  There was no one here to make pickled eggs for or buy silly Duck Dynasty merch for. 

You may think I'm cruel or disrespectful, blogging and joking about my father's death.  Him, he would have loved being the topic of a blog post, and would've said to kiss his ass if you didn't like it.

Raising a glass to you, Dad, 'cause I know you are rocking the afterlife.  We miss you.


Lynda D said...

I think i would have loved to have known your Dad. Condolences to you and yours. Thank you for sharing your journey.

Country Wife said...

Thank you, Lynda D.

Anonymous said...

Bei Ihnen das abstrakte Denken

Ruth Dixon said...

What a truly amazing post. I think you are all pretty special and are handling it just as you are meant to. Holidays are meant for peace, I hope your's were.

Country Wife said...

Thank you, Ruth. We are healing..slowly.

Carolyn said...

Although I wish you had come back to the blogging world with different news, I'm glad that you were able to share this very personal, and very informative, post with us. As my father is quite the smartass himself, I believe your dad would have enjoyed this little tribute. I hope you and your family are able to focus on the good times with your father to pull you through the grieving (and snot).

Country Wife said...

Thanks, Carolyn.