Sunday, November 7, 2010

Requiem for Rex

The tributes to my father were far-reaching; both official and deeply personal. They came in person with clasped hands and watery eyes; in written form on card and on Facebook; by phone and by text. These were the words, the thoughts and the prayers that lifted the fog of loss and carried myself and my family through the ritual of mourning.

In retrospect, I visualize the entirety of the past week through a Vaseline-smeared lens: despite the serious nature of these events, everything seems to be swimming through my addled brain in a somewhat dreamlike state. Much needs sifted through, but only certain moments hold absolute clarity...and most of those involve words about my father.

The first moment would be the worst words of all: when the actual call came...I was driving our car with Keith napping in the passenger seat and we were on our way to Halloween weekend festivities that included a possible ghost tour at Eureka Springs. Suddenly, I would answer the call; I would foggily pull over at the next exit; I would utter the words out loud to Keith. The idea of mingling with ghosts suddenly carried far more gravity. Over the course of the evening, Keith would take over: driving home, grabbing dinner, booking my next-day flight, guiding my packing. These are among the memories that are fuzzy to me and that includes the flight itself. The layover in Charlotte the next day was occupied with frequent calls concerning arrangements. I trudged across the airport until I found the Carolina Pit BBQ and managed a few bites of tasty, vinegar-based North Carolina BBQ. I sat, moving the food around my plate and watched scores of harried and hurried passengers rush by. When a death, no matter how expected, seizes you into a heavy feeling of near-catatonia, it feels almost unfair that the whole world didn't grind to a halt with you, if only for one damn second. We all know that's a naive and somewhat selfish thought but it's there, nonetheless. I would only be comforted by the calls that I received offering sympathetic words.

I spent Sunday with my mother. Mom was sad but strangely serene. She insisted Dad's bed be removed immediately. She had his clothes folded up and ready for removal. I took her to the Halloween party at the assisted-living facility where she resides. I wheeled her beside her friends and found myself choking up as I did so.....she and Dad were always with two other couples and now she joined them alone. This was her first event as a widow. Mom, however, was a trouper....she clapped along with the young performers and laughed with her friends while I watched her; my own tears rolling throughout.

The ritual of the viewing and the service would come and pass by in a flurry of well wishes and spoken tributes to Dad. My grief had been tinged with a small amount of guilt. My father was 90 when he passed and having witnessed so many of my friends lose their parents at a far younger age, not to mention see so many friends die far too young during my lifetime, it seemed almost wrong to so strongly mourn a man who had the blessing of a good, long life. One guest by the name of Texas who attended the viewing inadvertently crystallized then challenged that very thinking. Texas is younger than me and attended church with my Dad and they became big buddies. Texas has been staggered by a debilitating battle with cancer of the spine. I certainly didn't expect his presence and when he appeared at the doorway with his family, I was a bit staggered myself. He rested on one of the sofas for a bit and I sat down to chat with him for awhile. Having regained a second wind, Texas wanted to walk to the casket. He slowly shuffled there and despite his struggles with breathing, emphasized his kind thoughts about Dad. Texas had spent the day having chemo treatments prior to the viewing and it would certainly have been understood had he chosen not to attend. However, he came and stayed for awhile and demonstrated to me not only how much my father meant to this community but what real grace in the face of adversity means.

Texas' words of solace were one of many throughout the viewing and they all held me in sway with their conviction and sorrow. Dad was beloved in ways I hadn't even realized and the tributes poured forth over and over until my head was nearly swimming with spoken praise. Sometimes the words were few....Dad's lifelong best friend Dwight would come to pay respects and despite his own struggles with aging, would whisper to me,"There was no one closer than your Dad and I."

Powerful words would characterize the service as well and this time they were spoken by a man whose very voice is a comfort to my family. George Harris, father to my dear friend Lydia and beloved former pastor at my parent's church, officiated the service. Now in his 80's himself, George would captivate me immediately by telling me he looked up at me and saw my father himself. During the service, the good Pastor George was as eloquent as ever. He chose perfect Scripture passages. He told humorous stories that I will elaborate on in a later post. His words concerning the acceptance of those with differences seared themselves into my brain. He chose two passages from this very blog: the story of the wintry delivery of Christmas baskets described in the last post and astoundingly, the Barry Manilow story written in the February post named Snowmageddon Blues. Hearing my words spoken as part of my father's eulogy in George Harris' soft, Southern lilt was and will always be one of the most powerful moments of my life. Words of comfort would continue to surround us throughout the burial.

These words of support and tribute carried myself and my family throughout. There were also words of comfort that I believe exist beyond this mortal plane, however. I believe Dad wasted no time in exerting influence before and since his spirit passed from this world. At the time of his passing, he was in his own bed and had sat up suddenly and wordlessly and faced my mother, who was awake. Mom placed her hands on him and said,"Rex, are you ok?" He replied, "I'm ok." He then went to sleep and quietly passed away in Mom's arms. Dad's peaceful passing, while traumatic, has been a source of great solace to Mom. My sister and I expected her to be distraught to the point of great distraction this week, especially due to her Alzheimer's. Instead, she amazed us with her consistent display of strength, clarity and even humor. She sat, nose to nose, wheelchair to wheelchair with her sister Bonnie and they laughed and cried and cooed over the gorgeous florals arranged by the Greenhouse. She looked outright radiant throughout. She has recounted the moments of Dad's passing to everyone she has encountered....each telling seemed to comfort her more and more. She even told us, much to our surprise, that she was now happy at the assisted-living facility where she resided and considered it home. I'm starting to think that Dad telling Mom that he was ok became the most powerful words of all. Her amazing calm and resolve this week made it seem as if Dad had whispered additional words of comfort to her after his passing....and maybe he had. It seemed also that Dad may have even had some say with the Powers That Be about the weather. His burial took place on a sunny, beautiful afternoon. The rains would come that evening and the following day would be dismally wet and gray.

Leave it to Dad to have the last word.


Michele said...

Love it, Greg. Many of the same thoughts ran through my head throughout the planning, viewing, funeral, etc. We were very lucky to have the beautiful sunshine that day. Love and miss you!
Michele (Dye) Stahl

Confounded Cook said...

My friend Michele lost her Mom this week. She lives in Cincinnati and I'm in KC. Michele was attending the funeral in New Matamoras, OH. Little did we know we were saying goodbye to parents just a few miles apart. Love and miss you too, darlin'....

Lydia said...

Beautifully expressed. It was a wonderful celebration of Rex's life. So glad you two are home safe and sound. Love and hugs

Lisa Mandina said...

Wow Greg. This is such a wonderful tribute. I cannot imagine being this able to express myself so eloquently when I lose a parent. I know the feeling of it not being quite real though when you lose someone. It still seems unreal to think of people I've lost in the past few years. Hard to imagine people just gone. I think as we get older, it must get that way. I think the story of how he said he was okay in that last moment is unique, but how comforting for your mother.

Anonymous said...


This is beautiful. I so wanted to be there. Thought of you all week. Sending hugs your way. Love you, Chelle Belle

Kristy said...


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