Planning My Father’s Memorial

sympathy cards

Every day for weeks, I have written a different set of remarks to share at my Dad’s memorial service on February 16. All in my head.

Do I talk about how he softened as he aged, what a remarkable role model he is for all of us as we approach the prospect of living into our 90s? Or focus on how he broke the mold of his family’s dysfunctional example and grew into a wonderful father? Should I summon dear memories from early childhood, like happy times wedged in the front seat between Mom and Dad, driving around Kensington, MD, looking at the strings of colorful bulbs strung on houses at Christmas, singing, “Here we go looby-loo…?” Could I use a symbol that had resonance for Dad as a rhetorical device — perhaps a river, or a rose? Do I tell how he was still my Daddy, and share how I cried one last time, cradled against his powerful chest, after he died?

I sat down this morning and wrote, just wrote. Didn’t outline, didn’t plan, didn’t try.

Planning Dad’s memorial has been like listening to several radio stations at once. My brothers are broadcasting on their channels, sharing their experiences and their ideas, and I swear I am transmitting on several stations of my own. I’m so busy listening to my thoughts and feelings that I can barely hear theirs.

And it isn’t limited to my brothers. Often, my husband has said something to me in recent days and I’ve had to say, “Start over. I wasn’t listening and I didn’t hear a word.”

Slowly, however, the noise is abating. I am feeling less agitated by the emotional bombardment. I am starting to hear some notes that penetrate the muck, a phrase or two.

It wasn’t like this when we planned my mother’s services in 1999. I wondered to my brothers: is it because we’re doing this more electronically than we did 14 years ago? Or because Mom pretty much scripted her funeral and all we had to do was implement it? Or that Dad was the arbiter in planning Mom’s service and this one is on us?

I am feeling more hopeful that we will come to a place like that described by Alexander Levy in The Orphaned Adult:

Gradually, with unconscious cooperation, survivors weave a commemorative tapestry from these bits and pieces of shared nostalgia…. Story by story, smile by smile, and tear by tear, these memories intertwine, creating a fabric in which an image of the departed is preserved, within which survivors are enveloped, and by which they are forever bound.

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