It’s 12 noon, an hour before everyone is due to arrive. My dads wish was not to be seen after he passed. He told my mum that seeing his dads open casket at a young age was one of his most haunting memories. He didn’t want people to see him like that. He didn’t want any one to be haunted by his last memory the same way he was haunted by the one of his father.
I walked into the chalet, and just as quickly as I entered, I walked out. I asked where the bathrooms were quickly as to find an excuse to leave the hall in which my dads coffin resided. I walked away thinking, “That coffin is far too small. He can’t be in there. That can’t be him. That’s not him. This isn’t real. This is… this is it.”
The chalet my older sister Kirsten ended up choosing was lovely. It had an old charm, a softness with a historic edge. As I entered the door labeled ‘Ladies Cloak’, I looked at my reflection, unnecessarily reapplied my lip stick on top of my pre-existing coat. One minute later, maybe a handful more, I decided to walk back out. As I turn back to the direction of the coffin, my twin sister Tash cautiously and abruptly stops me –
“Wait! Don’t! The caskets open! You can’t! …well… you can… you can if you want… he’s there.”
I didn’t think about what I wanted, if I actually did want to see him or if I was purely stepping closer because every ones advice pointed me in that direction.
‘You need it for closure,’ they say, ‘you’re only regret would be if you didn’t. This is your last opportunity to say goodbye to your father.’
I hate that. The word last. You say last, and it can mean two completely different things.
e.g. The feeling of love I have for my father is something that will always last. Last in the sense it will never go, it will always stay. It will be there forever.
e.g. This is the last time you will get the chance to see your father. The only one, one chance, one short opportunity. One that will be there for a glimpse, and then be gone forever.
The English language, for all of the beauty, humor, love and excitement it can communicate, it can be so petulant and greedy sometimes; in its irony. I had this minor epiphany a week before the funeral. Why is it that in the morning we wake up, but at a wake, we’re mourning? The language always has its hidden puns, it humor that just makes you wonder. I suppose you can say that in someway, that’s the languages own personality.
So I walked up to the coffin. I saw the white silk lining, and then I saw what it was softly covering. I saw my father, what was left of him. My father, my dad. It was most definitely him, but it wasn’t him at all. His skin had fallen in a funny way, his jaw wasn’t recognizable. The skin of his hands were pinched, as though he was in a bath for too long. His fingernails though… they showed death. They were black. There are some things that they can’t cover with Maybelline. Another one of these things, was his coldness. You hear about how they go cold. But he felt fresh from a refrigerator, the only difference is that he showed no signs of goose bumps from his chill. He laid dormant.
I took in small, shallow breaths. They were harsh for what they were, the oxygen hurt in this surreal atmosphere. I gathered up some courage, as the funeral director told us it was okay to touch him, normal even. I touched his hand. I touched his soft skin. I touched his suit jacket. His torso which was always so hard. Then I touched his forehead, I stroked his hair – softer than I’ve ever known it to be. I complimented him on the spot for that. ‘Dad, I’m sorry, you’re not looking your best. But you hairs definitely compensating.’ I smiled and laughed. I frowned, my throat gave way to temporary tremors. I held through.
My dad had been deceased for 3 weeks. The fact he was viewable was incredible. The Man, The Myth, The Legend, he didn’t disappoint. Our theory being that it was his daily/nightly regime of a bottle of gin that kept him so well preserved – this was purely for homeopathic purposes of course. My dad worked and lived his life in under developed and developing (thanks to him) countries, and he was plagued with reoccurring malaria. Quinine, a well known ingredient of tonic water, which also happens to be an antimalarial. Best served with gin. I think you can see where the broken logic to his excuse was formulated.
It was in tribute to this, that my sisters, my mother and I brought 3 lemons, a small glass bottle of tonic water, and a bottle of Bombay Gin to place in the coffin with him. I placed the obejcts strategically, because as strong as my older sister has proven to be at this time, she also has her reservations. I played tetris for a while, considering where the best place was to leave his gifts. First idea was the feat, next to his R.M. Williams. But that was obviously silly, he was never one to touch his toes, my sisters and I were always called to help him take off his boots.
“Start with the heels darling!”
Next, was by his side, near his soft but unrecognizable hands. This didn’t work however, as the draping of the white silk was purposeful. There were bruises and scars that were being hidden, and this placement proved to be detrimental.
The winner, was by the right side of his head. He always asked my sisters or I to ‘re-freshen’ his drink. I first placed the Bombay down. The weight on the silk was not too much, and still allowed the silk to drape along his face giving the impression that his amazing bone structure was still intact. Next was the bottle of tonic water, next to the bottle of gin like a worthy sidekick. Lastly the three lemons which we had put in a sheer black bag with a black silk ribbon.
“Sorry dad, but when life gives you a bag of lemons, you have to make the G&Ts yourself.”
As morbid as my jokes are in person, the smile would’ve been shared I think. He would’ve smiled right then if he could. He liked my wit I like to think, although he would always defensively denounce it, “Stop being smart.”, as though it was a form of cussing. I like to think he enjoyed my snide remarks, purely because it reminded him of something he would say.
Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.
After writing my speech (which I posted yesterday, the day of the funeral), I’ve grown very attached to that quote…
So here I am, day after the funeral… and with all honesty. I do think I’ve accepted my dads death. Although I haven’t shattered into a million pieces, and my tears have been reserved. I think it’s taken me some time, but I’ve realized I don’t think I work in the way society dictates I should. I’m heart broken, but I don’t have to wear tears for it to be real. I don’t have to be catatonic to understand that I’m finding everything hard right now. I think my dad knows me, I think he knows I’m strong, he knows I’m hurt, he knows I’m broken and I’m not the same. That I miss him. I’ve always missed him, so I think that’s why I’ve found it somewhat easier to grasp that he’s now gone. This, in no way, shape, or form doesn’t mean that I didn’t love him, don’t miss him, ‘wasn’t close to him’. It just means that the tears will come, they will come in the most absurd and inconvenient times, but for this very moment, they’re not needed.
They’ll most likely come when I finally hear word of some horrible or possibly terrible news…
Until then x