All Saints Day

The memorial service for my dad was on Sunday.  He had a great sense of humor: it didn’t escape any of us that the only day it worked for everyone to be at his memorial/funeral was All Saints Day. I’m sure it didn’t escape Dad.

My mom said to me on the phone: “Well…they say you elevate your spouse to sainthood after they die.  Your husband dies and suddenly he’s a saint.  I suppose it’s appropriate Dad’s official induction into sainthood is Sunday.”

My dad loved to barbeque.  He loved a block party.  One Saturday morning when I was around 10 or so, I woke up to the sound of him digging a hole in the middle of the backyard.  I immediately looked for the dog: you’re a kid, there’s a hole, you have animals, you worry.  Even at 10, it struck me as odd the grave would be smack in the middle of the grass in the backyard.

The dog was fine.

He was digging a pit for the pig.

We didn’t own a pig.


The plan was to roast an entire pig Hawaiian pit-style, embers and hot rocks, pig tightly mummified in wet banana leaves, put directly on embers and rocks, and shovel the dirt back in.  Leave it overnight.  Next night, dig it up, and eat.

I was already the fat kid at school.  Now I was going to be the fat kid who ate food out of a hole in the ground.

I did not see a positive outcome to this scenario in the schoolyard.  How much would a bus ticket to Australia cost?

It was the best pork I ever ate.  Since the entire block was there, I needn’t have worried: the same kids who would’ve teased me were also eating food dug out of a hole in the ground.  Forget second helpings, they came back for 4ths and 5ths. Who knew that having a dad who shoveled dirt on the main course would increase my popularity?  For months, other kids came up to me deferentially: did I think my dad was going to cook again any time soon?  In the backyard?  If he did, could they come?

At the memorial,  we had Dad’s favorite foods:  pizza and beer, salad, salami, olives, and hot fudge sundaes.  Chocolate chip cookies.  Dixieland jazz was piped out into the backyard.  His favorite movies played silently on DVD players in the house: My Big Fat Greek Wedding (no surprise after the pig story, huh) and Shogun.  The coffee table was strewn with Louis L’Amour westerns.  It was immediate-immediate family only.  About 50 people, and 8 dogs.  That’s intimate for us.  When it got dark, most of the aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins had left, and ten of us sat around the fire pit and traded Dad stories.

This one, told by my mom, sums my dad up in a nutshell:

About a week before he died, mom was holding his hand.  He’d had a particularly bad day, and was in pain.  His eyes were closed, and he looked exhausted.  He appeared to be in and out of consciousness.  I went out to get my mom some food.  While I was gone, my mom used the alone time to try to help her husband:

“Honey…it’s okay to let go.  Really.  We love you and we don’t want you to suffer.”

She paused, groping for the right words:

“Henry, I know it’s hard.  Let go.  It’s okay to let go…Just…Let…Go.”

My dad immediately opened his eyes, turned his head so he could look mom in the eye, and said:

“Oh, I’m trying Mae…believe me, I’m TRYING!”

They were both laughing hysterically when I got back, tears streaming down their cheeks.

He’d been conscious the whole time: he’d closed his eyes to deal with the pain.

My mom wiped her face, and said to me: “I just tried to kill your father.  Sorry about that.”

“No problem.” I said.

My dad smiled and closed his eyes, preparing to pick up the burden again, and I handed my mom a sandwich, wondering if I’d ever know what their private joke was.

He did it in his own way: self-sufficient to the end.  He waited until everyone left: then ran toward the white light, and jumped.

You made it Dad!

8 thoughts on “All Saints Day

  1. I love the stories you write about your Dad. You are making him come alive for us and he sounds like a wonderful father and human being. Hey, anyone who roasts a whole pig is pretty special. My brother loves to do that and the pork is always incredible.

  2. Thanks everyone. Your support means a lot.

    I’ve been quiet here for a bit: confused about what to share, how appropriate it is, etc. I appreciate the reassurance and your comments. Losing my dad (or internalizing him, as Lisa thoughtfully pointed out) is making me a little impulsive about talking about him, as if talking will keep him alive in some way.

    i.e. I seriously doubt the mailman cares that my dad saved all his grade school report cards. And not because he had good grades either! Isn’t that funny? Right?

    Uh-huh. Time to regroup when I find myself blurting things out in that manner. 😉

    Jon, that is a funny and wonderful story. I’m glad you have that to make you smile.

  3. I read something lovely somewhere one day, I can’t remember where or when. But it went something like this:

    Nothing you love is ever lost. What seems to have disapeared has only moved so close that you must look within your heart to see it.

    We are never alone; we always have those dwelling in our hearts.

  4. I am sure your dad would be very happy to hear that you are sharing such wonderful stories about him with all of us. I know the memorial was bittersweet but I love that you all celebrated all the things he loved. Take care Jane.

  5. The last 2 weeks of my Pop’s life was in a hospice. Cancer had won at it was just a matter of time, counted in hours. Pop was transferred to the hospice on a Friday, all four of his sons arrived the next day, coming from Colorado and Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii, back to northern Idaho where we had lived in childhood. It was fortunate as Saturday was the last day he was lucid . . . almost.

    We took shifts so at least one of us was in the room with him 24/7. It was bittersweet as we brothers had not been all together in many years. Some sadness & tears, but many laughs about life & memories of growing up and the man who influenced us like no other.

    About four days after we got there Pop could no longer get out of bed and he had to have a catheter inserted. It wasn’t pretty . . . body full of morphine, physically unable to stand yet he fought like a, well, like a foal getting hoofs trimmed – surprisingly strong willed but tiring quickly – to avoid that catheter. So here we were, just as you would encourage that struggling foal, talking to Dad as gently and best we could, “C’mon Pop – let the nurses help you”, “It’s ok Dad just relax” . . . trying to keep low key but knowing the deed had to be done.

    I, as the eldest, decided to get ‘a little firm’ and I said something like “Dad, listen . . . this has to be done, if you don’t let the nurse take care of you it’s going to get worse . . yada yada . . .” to which my father, shocking all of us, lifted his head, opened his eyes and fixed me with his most sternest stare and said directly to me, in his very steeliest of voice “I KNOW WHAT I HAVE TO DO, JON!” Then laid his head back down, closed his eyes and the morphine pushed him back into sleep.

    We boys were petrified, DAD had SPOKEN, the way Dad always speaks, and we were in Trouble (mind you at the time we’re all in our 40’s)! It even stopped the nurse in her tracks. A few seconds passed, the nurse was able to finish inserting the catheter and left the room, and we started breathing again.

    As we gathered our wits back from the floor and were able to function, my brother Curtis summed it all up and said “How appropriate that Dad comes out of a coma to yell at Jon.”

    They were his last words, I smile big every time I think of them.

  6. Your dad sounds like an incredible man. What great memories, thanks for sharing them. I hope you were able to get some joy and peace from your memorial ceremony.

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