Since my father passed away on a Saturday night, we had all of Sunday to stay home from school. I knew that we had the option to stay home from school, but what I truly needed, come Monday morning, was to be surrounded by others, and to get back to my typical routine as quickly as possible; to try and feel some sort of normalcy again.
Of course, Monday morning at school was followed with a heaping pile of questions, from classmates, teachers, counselors, our principal, etc. I walked through the doors of Good Shepherd Catholic School on Monday morning, and took my place on the carpet as I had every other school morning, waiting for them to allow us to head to our classrooms. As other students started to arrive, the questions began.
“What are you doing here?! Didn’t your dad just die?” “Are you okay?” and a whole other slew of questions.
As I had always been taught to do before, I slapped a smile on my face and answered all of their questions. I found that If i could remove myself from actually thinking about what had happened, but answer their questions as if I were telling someone else's story and not my own, then it seemed to be okay. It didn’t make it feel like I was telling others the events that were occurring in my own life, but that of a person whom I did not know. It was still a shock to me that my dad had passed away, and didn't feel like it had fully sunk in quite yet. My answers always were similar to, “Yes, I am here, but mom said that getting back to a routine would be best for me right now.” The entire day was filled with looks my way, and everyone whispering about me. It was uncomfortable to say the least, but since I knew people would probably react in this way, since word apparently traveled fast. I felt somewhat prepared for all of the questions.
As the week drew on, the funeral and visitation drew closer and closer. We had my dad’s visitation on that Wednesday night. My dad was laying in an open casket, in a very nice suit and his cell phone, of course. You see, if you knew my dad, you knew that he was glued to his cell phone at all times. He was always talking on it, catching up with old and new friends alike. Naturally, we had to bury him with it.
If you had never been to a visitation before, or you have, but you have never had to be on the receiving end of it, let me briefly explain to you what it looks like. There is typically a casket or urn at the center or front of the facility. For us, my father was in a casket. All of the close family members typically stand near or around the casket, so people can form a line and tell you how sorry they are for your loss. If having to stand near my father’s dead body, lying in this casket, was not morbid enough, imagine having to stand on your feet, in black formal attire, accepting grievances from hundreds of people you didn't know as well, all while having a smile across your face, and being as polite as you could be.
As people shuffled in, my sister and I had to say hello to a bunch of strangers that we had never met before. Most of the time it was people coming and going, and giving us their condolences for how sorry they were for our loss. My dad’s visitation was roughly 3 hours long, and man, did he know a lot of people.
As the night wore on, I saw my entire basketball team walk in, in similar white shirts. They came up to me, and all gave me hugs. My two coaches handed me a shirt, and as I took a look at it, on the sleeve, it had my dad’s initials in sparkly blue. The “JH” sparkled with so much glimmer. They explained to me that they knew how big of a supporter he was for my basketball team, and that they wanted to show their support to me by playing the rest of the season in honor of him. You can imagine my surprise when they shared this with me. Not only was I in awe, but tears began to stream down my face. I have never received such kindness in my life.
For the rest of the season, I got to wear my dad’s initials on my sleeve, and play every game in honor of him. To this day, that is still one of the kindest things that anyone has ever done for me, and something that I will never forget.
The following morning, his funeral took place. We pulled up in a limo and walked into the church in Sedalia, MO. where my dad’s mother lived. She had wanted the service to be in Sedalia, since that would be where he was going to be buried as well. As we walked into the church, we were stunned to see how many were in attendance. The church was packed with so much love for my father. Even though it was going to be a sad day, knowing that we were surrounded by so much love, made the day a little bit more bearable.
As I looked around at the many faces, some I recognized and some I did not. The church was filled with beautiful flowers towards the altar. As your eyes met the large projector screens at the very front of the church, you saw a picture slideshow accompanied by music playing.
The slideshow stopped on a family photo of us four (my mom, dad, sister and me), as we made our way to the front. As my eyes gazed the room, I saw looks of concern and sorrow staring back at me. We took our seats in the front row. The second I sat down, I completely lost it. The tears started and never stopped. Sitting in that pew, surrounded by all of my loved ones, to honor the life of my father made everything seem so real. He truly was not coming back.
As the service wore on, it was time for my sister and I to get up and speak about our dad. I was too much of a mess to get up and speak on his behalf. My sister, though, was able to get up there and share stories and tidbits about my father. At just 8 years of age, she did such a beautiful job, sharing and honoring my father.
After the funeral service, we proceeded back to the limo to head to the Cemetery. This cemetery sat on a hill that overlooked a beautiful lake. As I stepped out of the limo, a sense of peace came over me. This location was breathtaking and serene. I took in a deep breath, and took the next step towards the burial site. Something about this moment felt so surreal. It felt as though we had been given our closure, before even being able to process what was going on. I felt as though I was living my life in reverse, and that I was supposed to accept that my father was gone forever before I was even able to actually process that he was no longer here with us.
As I took my seat at the burial site, the ceremony began. This was a complete blur to me. The only part I remember vividly, was when they began to lower my father’s casket into his grave. Symbolically, this felt like the end. From this point on, it was all about picking up the pieces of your life, and moving forward. People expected you to continue living your life, regardless of the fact that you felt like your heart had just been ripped out of your chest and that your first true love had just been abruptly taken from you.
We got back into the limo, and there was this ultimate silence that came over the car. No one spoke. Everyone was deep in their own thoughts about the events that had just taken place.