–2016 started out with so much promise. It’s the year my sister turned 50, my brother 40, my father 80, my daughter’s and nephew’s first communion, another nephew’s high-school graduation, another nephew’s junior-high graduation, my 20th-year wedding anniversary, as well as my sister’s and brother’s! So much to celebrate! We knew this would be a year to remember. What none of us knew is that it would be the summer our father died.
I sat between my two tall brothers on the flight to Madrid. I couldn’t fathom flying alone, so even though the ticket was well beyond expensive, I did whatever it took to get on the same flight as theirs. I felt protected between them. Growing up, and now, in my forties, being between my brothers has given me confidence and assurance that I would be ok no matter what happens.
My brother looked at boat rentals on-line, and we debated over which boat to get. My dad wanted his ashes to be scattered in three places. The first: in the ocean, on the beach in San Sebastian, where he grew up. We needed a boat for that. A big one so that my younger brother would’t get sea-sick. The second place: the beach, on the spot where he sat with his family every summer. And the third place: by his father and grandfather’s tomb, in the Madrid cemetery.
We drank wine, saw movies, talked about our dad, and tried to sleep during the 8-hr flight. When we landed and got our bags, we came out where my dad used to greet us when we came to see him. He would never be there again, physically, to pick us up from the airport. Deep breath.
We took a taxi and headed to my sister’s house. After dropping off our luggage and a quick shower, we got dressed and discussed what we should wear. Everything had been in such a hurry that I hadn’t given myself time to think. As I put on make up, it hit me: I was getting ready to go to my dad’s funeral. My dad is dead. He is no longer here. I feel him, I see him in my mind, but he is no longer here. I walked out to the hall, with pain in my chest, and my sister met me with an embrace. “Come on, dad wanted everything to be quick and normal.” There wasn’t much time for emotions. Not yet. I knew at some point I would explode. Since I’d gotten the message about my dad’s passing, at 3:30 a.m. the night before, I hadn’t been able to have a good cry. It would have to wait for later.
I chose the black dress, no time to do my hair. A pony tail and a dash more make-up to hide the puffiness and jet-lagged bags under my eyes, and we were off. We stopped at the grocery store to buy some food and wine to take for the reception, and then headed to the funeral home.
Carrying bags and telling stories, we entered room #25. I don’t know what I expected, but I just didn’t think the casket would be there, in a room connected to ours, separated by a glass. I saw it and broke down. Now, there was time for tears. I dropped to my knees and touched the glass, wanting to break it, to open the casket and hug my dad. Take him away, where he could magically come to life. No, this is not real. This is not happening. I never thought this would happen. I mean, I knew he was sick, that the cancer would eventually take him, that he was now in God’s presence, but it happened too fast. Just a week ago I was in Spain. He was sitting up when I hugged him. Yes, I had said good-bye, but some part of me held on to a transparent hope, that maybe he would get better. I don’t care if he was 80, that he already had a great life, and that we are all lucky to have had him for so long. I want more. I want him to be alive.
My daddy was gone, but he was inside that coffin. HIS BODY WAS IN THERE! The sadness took over me and I gave myself permission to cry as many tears as were necessary.
After riding the wave of sorrow, I rose and prepared for the visitors that would soon be coming. We opened the snacks, set out the wine and flowers we’d bought. I was glad I got out at least a part of my tears, so by the time old friends showed up, I was able to hold it together and not break down every time someone came. But when the funeral home representative approached and told us they were moving the casket, it triggered me again. This time, I went into the cold room to actually touch the casket. I hugged it and yelled my papi’s name: “papi, mi papi, mi papi!”. I didn’t want them to move the body. What was it I wanted? My father resurrected? Yes. God could do that. He could do anything. But I knew that wasn’t likely. I knew I had to let him go.
The priest came, we said a brief prayer and he told us we were ready for the mass. He asked us who wanted to read. My brother and sister did. I did too, but I was unsure if the words would come out or if my legs would hold me up in front of everyone. The five of us grabbed on to each other in the front row of the chapel as the priest started to talk. I identified with what he said about death: “it takes everything out of it’s place”.
After the mass, just the family went to the cemetery where the cremation would take place. We followed each other in a small procession of vehicles. I drove my dad’s car and held tight to the stick shift, caressing it, realizing the countless times my dad had gripped that as he drove. He was with us in that car, and in the brilliant sunshine that revealed the outline of the mountains in the distance.
We got there and filed out, walking towards the funeral car. Knowing the moment was near. The end of our father’s physical representation on earth. I had never before researched or heard the details of a cremation. No one talks about it. I always thought that’s what I wanted, but after seeing the coffin go into the burning flames, I had to walk out, fearing I might vomit or faint if I saw the whole thing take place.
Papi! I looked back at the building and I could see a cloud of smoke coming out the chimney. “We are dust and to dust we shall return.” And then, right by the chimney, on the roof, there was a big bird. What was it? A stork? Yes! A stork! From what I read after looking up the symbolic meaning of a stork, it seems to represent new life, renewal, rebirth, and happiness. What more could I ask for than my papi’s happiness in heaven?
We miss you so much papi. You are always with me, from the moment I open my eyes, to the instant I close them at night. And even then, I hug you in my dreams. Te quiero tanto!