Surreal. Walking into my house, back into my life, this afternoon, it was like it all never happened, or happened in a dream. In dreams, it all seems so real at the time, then the life you were just living in vanishes in the moment you woke up. That's sort of how it felt walking back into my house today.
Did I really fly back East, into a green rainy world, and go to the house of my childhood, and then be surrounded by family and friends to say goodbye to my father? Did we really visit his gravesite, and really feel ashes and rocks slip between our fingers as we scattered his remains -- him -- in the fields he loved so much? As I stepped into my own bedroom and started thinking about all the laundry I had to do, it seemed so far away, even though this very morning I was there.
The service we had for my Dad was really wonderful. My sister, brother and myself each spoke, then we opened it up for other friends and family to speak as well. My 6yo niece read an Irish blessing, and my 9yo nephew sang a song accompanied by his father on the guitar. This for me was really the highlight, if there can be such a thing at a memorial service. My Dad himself would have been moved to tears seeing his grandson sing like that, so confident, so heartfelt.
"All the diamonds in this world," by Bruce Cocburn.
After the memorial at the funeral home, we had a reception the house in Stephentown that was my father's beloved home for over 40 years. Somehow as kids we named it La Maison Verte -- the green house -- even though whatever's not white has pretty much always been red. In all its rusticness, it was a perfect place to hold his reception.
I spent most of the reception getting to know Lea, a cousin I knew of but had never met. My father had two older half-sisters, and Lea is one of those sister's daughters. We have one grandmother in common, and our grandmother's second husband was my grandfather and Lea's step-grandfather, so she remembers him well . I was thrilled to find a living memory of my grandfather (she was born in 1943 and is more my mother's generation than mine). Lea has done some research on our family history on ancestry.com, and she was fascinated to hear what little bits of family history I've figured from old photos, so we will most certainly be following up together.
(left to right: my brother Ronan, me, our cousin Veralea, my sister Stephanie)
My sister and brother and I shared an incredible odyssey together the past 5 years or so, supporting each other in different roles of managing our father's life. It is a real testament to my father -- and mother -- how we embraced our responsibility together and cooperatively in the formidable job that is caring for someone with dementia. It was so important and comforting to me to be with these two wonderful people during this time.
The one thing that's missing in all this grieving is the shock factor -- that doesn't happen after years of Alzheimer's. To my surprise, the sense of loss and sadness is no less. Though it might sound corny, it really is true that now I really can enjoy my father's memory now that I'm not burdened with guilt at "remembering" someone who's still alive. He's more real and present to me now than he has been in years.
And, as my laundry and my father's grandchildren remind me, life goes on.